UPDATED: October 2016
A Waldorf School Fantasy…
Before I gave birth the first time, I had visions of a nursery filled with toys that were exclusively produced in Europe (preferably by hand) with nary a Fisher-Price label in sight. I pictured blocks made of unfinished hunks of oak, sheepskins for “activity mats,” faceless woolen gnomes, chunky beeswax crayons, and perhaps a wooden rocking horse and a miniature red wagon for when my young Waldorfian reached his toddler years.
And a Playskool Reality…
Fast forward a year or so and our living room was brimming with beeping, flashing, talking plastic, most of which glistened with saliva from frequent visits to Felix’s curious mouth. While the majority of these eyesores were gifts, I’ll admit to buying more than a few battery-operated plastic diversions, generally with high hopes that they would entertain Felix long enough for me to pluck my eyebrows.
At this point, with Felix now 7 years old and Wolfie almost 3.5, I have admitted defeat in this battle–Legos, Transformers, Playmobile–there is more plastic in the boys’ room than there is air.
So while I’ve strayed pretty far from my prenatal principles in some ways, I did remain vigilant about the safety of those toys meant specifically for chewing: namely, teething toys. (I realize that some might call this a silly distinction. Even when he wasn’t cutting any teeth, Felix had a major oral fixation—an unsurprising fact considering I’m one of those people whose desk is littered with masticated pens, some of which may or may not be leaking more saliva than Sophie the Giraffe…but enough about me).
The Importance of Safe Teething Toys
I’ve spent lots of time yanking cell phones, sponges, shoes, and chalk out of both my children’s mouths, so it was nice to have something I could encourage them to chew on when they were teething. While both of my boys’ teeth tended to come in without much drama, some of you probably have kids who experience real teething discomfort, and for you, safe teethers are a must.
- Teethers made in China. We have tons of Chinese-made stuff (85% of toys are produced there, so it’s hard to avoid), but painted Chinese teethers could contain lead, and plastic Chinese toys probably contain phthalates.
- Teethers made of PVC. Most of the teethers that can be chilled in the freezer are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that is softened with phthalates.
- Plastic teethers of any kind. Even if they say BPA– and phthalate-free, plastic teethers may still be toxic–all plastic is probably hormone disrupting.
- Teething biscuits. I used to give these to Felix in an effort to chill him out in the car seat, but my pediatrician says they pose a choking hazard because they can snap in half in your baby’s mouth.
Instead of any of these above, you should look for teethers made of unpainted wood, 100% natural rubber, organic cotton, and silicone.
The Good Stuff
For a really safe teether, get a U.S-made unfinished wooden teether. We like the Camden Rose wooden teether. You’ll pay a reasonable $10-$15, but you’ll probably have to find it online. Waldorf toy stores generally carry Camden Rose products. All rattles and teethers are made in the U.S. of unfinished maple or cherry wood, which can be polished with beeswax (available on the Camden Rose website). One major downside of these teethers: My kids weren’t that into chewing on them! Give them a Made-in-China plastic ducky that smells like baby powder and they would go to town on them, but apparently they didn’t dig maple or beeswax.
Another wooden teether we love is My Very Own Rattle (yes, it’s also a rattle), which has been made by hand in Vermont since 1979.
Unlike other wooden rattles, this one is made from one solid piece of wood (so does not contain any glue). There is no finish of any kind applied to the wood, just a unique, sanding and polishing process, so there is never a concern about what the baby is getting in his or her mouth beside pure, natural, non-toxic northern hardwood.
If you have a baby, you probably already have Sophie the Giraffe, the ubiquitous and overpriced French squeaky toy that doubles as a safe teether. You can find Sophie almost anywhere, where you’ll shell out almost $25 for her, leaving you surprised and disappointed if your little one doesn’t sit contentedly in the corner for the next week doing nothing but sucking on Sophie’s cute little face. I love that Sophie is old-school (she’s been around almost 50 years), rubber (painted with food-grade paint), and made in Europe instead of China. What I don’t love is that each of my boys had limited interest in her, for chewing or playing. Sophie is available everywhere, including Amazon. Sophie now has a bunch of friends made by the same manufacturer, Vulli. These are safe, too.
And what about the mold? I’m neither surprised nor worried that parents have found mold inside of Sophie. Here’s why.
Under the Nile produces beautiful clothing, linens, and toys, all GOTS-certified. Made of and filled with organic Egyptian cotton, their ring teethers are dyed with vegetable or metal-free dyes. (Lots of dyes are loaded with heavy metals–like copper and chrome–which can cause various health problems when they accumulate, especially in tiny, developing bodies). Under the Nile is committed to fair trade, and their teether is reasonably priced. Chewing on cloth doesn’t seem all that appealing to me, but I have seen babies who love these. You can buy these teething rings from Amazon and in baby boutiques around the country.
I gave my nephew, Lincoln, this teether after the company sent me a sample for review–he loved it! The co-founder of the company, Adam, is clearly committed to the safety of his products, insisting on manufacturing in the United States with only class 6 silicone. The top part of this teether is medical grade silicone, which is technically implantable in the human body, and the bottom is food grade silicone, which means it’s safe for oral contact. Both varieties are FDA approved as well as CE Mark approved (which is the European, Australian, and Canadian version of the FDA). For every batch of silicone Adam receives, he also gets a Certificate of Analysis confirming that its physical properties meet the standards. The ice cream and cone components of the toy are bonded together during the molding process, so no glues or chemical adhesives are ever used in production.
For now, you’ll need to buy the SweeTooth teether on the company’s website, where you’ll pay $15 for one.
Wolfie loved the Hevea panda teether that my mom got for him on his first Christmas. This 100% natural rubber teether was the only one of all of the above that got a lot of use in our house. Other companies make similar natural rubber teethers–including Calmies and CaaOcho. Natursutten also makes a safe
rubber teether—but avoid their “Chill It” variety, which is made of EVA (see “The Sneaky Stuff” tab).
You’ll pay around $15 for one of these Hevea pandas, and we offer them in our store!
Honest makes a silicone teether that a lot of babies seem to like, although mine never tried it. I am fine with silicone as long as it isn’t heated, which obviously you won’t be doing with a teether. For this reason, I consider the Honest baby teether Good Stuff. It’s around $11.
The Bad Stuff
Felix loves his Eric Carle Crinkly Caterpillar, which has a sweet-smelling, nubby plastic tail perfect for soothing swollen gums. Unfortunately, I’ve recently learned that this toy contains detectable levels of antimony and bromine.
The Sneaky Stuff
If, like mine, your kids aren’t that into gnawing on wood, rubber, or cloth, you might be tempted by the German-produced Natursutten Chill-it Teethers. These are made of the more appealing plastic-like ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). I am skeptical of its safety, despite being touted among natural lifestyle experts as being non-toxic (then again, so were Nalgene bottles a decade ago!). Vinyl acetate is a possible carcinogen, and as this is a component of EVA, I am going to say this teether should be avoided.
Another not so great thing about Natursutten teethers? There was a recall on these back in 2009 because some of the liquid inside them was contaminated with a bacteria that could potentially cause illness in children with immune system disorders, although I don’t think any kids actually got sick.
Note that I DO like Natursutten’s RUBBER pacifiers and teethers.
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