A little poison never killed no babies

Every week I get together with a couple of other moms. It’s a great thing for us. We get out of the house, we get social time with adults, and our babies are close in age so we can compare notes and swap war stories with fellow victims of new-mommyhood.

This week the topic of teething came up. The Moose has 2 teeth now and the other two babies are about to cut their first ones soon. Both of the other moms said that they have been giving their babies teething tabs. Apparently these tablets are 100% natural and dissolve instantly under an infant’s tongue. One mom said they were homeopathic and they both swore by them. I know lots of times “homeopathic” is sometimes used instead of “naturopathic” (in fact my Firefox spell checker thinks that “naturopathic” is just a misspelling of “homeopathic” as it is underlining the word in red to tell me to fix it.) And naturopathic remedies may actually contain ingredients that work. So before going off half-cocked on a sleep deprived rant, I decided to do a little digging on these homeopathic teething miracle tabs.

First, for anyone needing a quick re-cap on homeopathy, Rebecca wrote a fantastic primer and I broke it down day by day during World Homeopathy Awareness Week. Checking out those links should clear up the difference between “all natural medicine” and “homeopathic medicine”.

The first thing I did was check out what’s in these things by going to the Hyland’s Homeopathic website. Here they list the ingredients as:

Calcarea Phosphorica 3X HPUS – supports dentition
Chamomilla 3X HPUS – for irritability
Coffea Cruda 3X HPUS – for wakefulness and diuresis
Belladonna 3X HPUS (0.0003% Alkaloids) – for redness and inflammation
In a base of Lactose (milk sugar) NF.

Yes, it contains belladonna (aka deadly nightshade), which is a toxic hallucinogen, and coffee. Awesome! What’s better than keeping your baby wide awake while he’s tripping? Oh wait… they added water and shook it which means it is no longer poisonous or caffeinated. Now it cures wakefulness and makes the walls seem especially un-melty.

If you’re still worried about poisoning your baby, first ease up – it’s natural and MaMa Nature makes sure nuthin’ kills nuthin’ else. Second, Hyland’s has some safety information on it’s products to ease your mind:

First and foremost, homeopathic medicines are regulated as drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as required in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The production of Hyland’s homeopathic medicines occurs within a validated process, as with any FDA-regulated drug, to ensure an accepted level of consistency in product output.

There you have it! Totally 100% pure, good, safe and regulated to boot.

But to appease all you skeptics, I went ahead and looked up exactly how the FDA regulates homeopathic medicine and found this at RationalWiki :

The 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act established the rules for FDA regulation of drugs. Sen. Royal Copeland (who was a practicing homeopath) wrote in a specific clause that said homeopathy was a drug and would be regulated by the FDA as such, but with many exceptions. Homeopaths do not have to apply for a new drug patent from the FDA for new solutions nor do they have to provide any information about its efficacy or safety. They do not have to test this at all. The only regulation the FDA has over homeopathy is to make sure the manufacturing produces a safe product (no arsenic leaking into the bottles on the production plant floor).

Okay so yes they are “regulated” but not in the sense of the word where they have to worry about pesky details like testing for product safety or backing up their claims with things like “proof”.

So even if the probability is that you’re really just giving your kid a lactose pill, the fact that the production of belladonna itself is completely unregulated means the potency of the plant can vary and there is a possibility your baby could be getting some bad shit.

Now granted, a 3X dilution is a “low dose” in both the homeopathic and the regular-real-medicine sense. It means that the solution is diluted to 1 part per thousand. The probability of getting anything other than lactose in the pill is pretty slim. The odds are about one in a thousand (quick math). But it’s still not low enough for me to be comfortable giving poison to my kid (even after a really rough day with a teething baby).

It’s also worth mentioning that, while certainly not as dangerous as belladonna, lactose pills are not on the super-safe-to-give-to-babies list either. So even if that’s “all” your baby is getting, keep in mind that feeding a child a lactose pill increases risk for future milk allergies and, according to the NIH, the reason they don’t do lactose intolerance testing on babies is because “a large lactose load can be dangerous… as infants are more likely to become dehydrated from diarrhea that can be caused by lactose intolerance.”

So even if the remedy is diluted enough that you’re not giving your baby the brown acid or keeping her up all night with a dissolving espresso pill, there’s still a decent risk that she could get quite ill.

How about we try to stick with ibuprofen, acetaminophen and something cold to chomp on?

Oh, and no whiskey on the gums either, folks. If you feel you must use it, just buy the good stuff and use it on mom and dad to help deal with teething. (My husband swears by Highland Park 30 yr scotch.)

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Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. I only used those tablets once- didn’t care for them. Josh is 22 months old and has 12 teeth. When the molars were coming in I used Tylenol sparingly.
    You should share that info with the other moms. Thanks for the info!

  2. Honestly, we didn’t find teething to be that big a deal. We had a few weeks when our son slept a little worse than usual, and that was pretty much it. Note I said “worse than usual.” He’s never been a big sleeper to begin with. He’s 2 now, and never sleeps more than about 8-9 hours at night. If we put him to bed earlier, he just gets up earlier.

  3. Holy crap! I never thought of giving my child belladonna when a rubber ring kept in the fridge did the job for us.
    I should have kept some cyanide on hand in case she bumped her head.

  4. Woooooo I remember those. Another mom in our baby group offered them when my nine-month-old was teething. “These are great!” she cried, and dug them out of her diaper bag. “Lauren’s been so much better since we tried them!”

    “Hey, cool!” I said, and took the box to look over it. And spotted “belladonna” in the ingredient list. (I didn’t even get to the point of worrying about the homeopathic woo-woo factor.)

    “Uh, Julie, this is deadly nightshade.”


    “Belladonna. Deadly nightshade. Look, no offense, but I’m not going to give this to my kid.”

    I went to hand them back, and she threw them straight in the trash and burst into tears, horrified. A couple other mothers who’d also been talking them up looked rather pale.

    All the kids were completely fine (as far as we can tell) and lived through the experience, but it was a nice reminder for us to not trust everything “natural”…

  5. He’s 2 now, and never sleeps more than about 8-9 hours at night.

    Ummm… am I just living far outside the norm here, or isn’t that just about how much most people sleep, more or less? Now, I know I sleep a lot less than most people, having a lifelong insomnia issue, but I didn’t think it was that extreme…

  6. *giggling* I usually use arsenic as my example of an “all natural” thing that’s not so good for you.

    But yes, I’ve gone up against the parents who LOVE Hyland’s before, even after you mention the belladonna and the lactose that they’ve been trying to avoid so desperately. Personally, once the kid’s old enough I prefer frozen peas or a frozen version of a fruit they’re already eating thrown in the blender (just the fruit, frozen blended peas don’t sound too tasty to me).

  7. richunger:

    30 year Highland Park?! Whoa. I want to drink with your husband. That goes for $400 a bottle! I generally consign myself to the 18 year.

    No, it’s like $120 a bottle.

    And it’s not like that’s his every day scotch or anything.

    But back on topic – for some babies teething can be pretty awful. Moose is a little crabbier, a little warmer and less hungry (less hungry is a problem since he’s underweight) but some kids scream in pain for days and don’t sleep and have diarrhea. I completely understand being desperate to try something but being wary of infant meds given the recall on children’s cold medicine last year.

  8. Rystefn wrote:

    Ummm… am I just living far outside the norm here, or isn’t that just about how much most people sleep, more or less? Now, I know I sleep a lot less than most people, having a lifelong insomnia issue, but I didn’t think it was that extreme…

    Ah, but you see 8-9 hours is normal for adult humans. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re not two years old. In that case your sleep habits might be within the normal range.

    If you were two you would be outside the norm with 8-9 hours a day. Also it’d be a bit early to claim a lifelong insomnia issue.

  9. If you were two you would be outside the norm with 8-9 hours a day. Also it’d be a bit early to claim a lifelong insomnia issue.

    It would also be a bit early to be commenting on Skepchick posts.

  10. At one time teething powders were common, and many contained a grain of calomel, 65 mg of HgCl, over 50 mg of mercury. Many millions of doses of these teething powders were sold each year. Many children developed mercury poisoning, then known as “pink disease”. Over a thousand died from it.

    This is one of the things that makes the “mercury causes autism” idea so preposterous and wrong. Many millions of children received many thousands of times more mercury from teething powder than any child has ever received from vaccines. If mercury caused autism, the incidence would have been gigantic 60 years ago.

  11. daedalus2u:

    I didn’t know about that. That’s a pretty interesting tidbit.


    So far Moose has been really good about not biting. It was harsh at first, but he’s figured out how to latch with teeth.

    So right now I’m still shooting for the 18-22 months recommendation but I’ll be happy with anything more than 12 months.

  12. They are quite popular among the mommies I know, fortunately I’ve never heard of anyone’s child getting sick because of them. I’ll admit that I actually bought a bottle of these when my oldest was teething (almost 5 yo now). But as far as I’m concerned they didn’t do jack. I know, shocker right?

  13. joshsmom, I’m not Elyse, but I’ve nursed two kids who had teeth now. They do go through a biting phase, but generally if you pull them off briefly whenever they bite, they have a tendency to stop doing it after a bit and figure out how to latch without the teeth.

    Elyse, hang in there!!

    daedalus, that’s good to know about the teething powder. Sad that it happened, but good information to have.

  14. My mother always told the story that when I was nursing there was one time that I bit her. She was shocked and startled and pulled me off abruptly, which (she says) so distressed me that I never did it again.

  15. Yup, good advice. Keep two things in the freezer: rubber rings (the ones with water in) for the baby, and a bottle of whiskey for you. Add ring to baby. Add ice to whiskey. Refresh both when necessary.

    (And yes, to the curious, teeth and nursing are not mutually exclusive. I gave my babies a light flick on the nose when they bit — it doesn’t hurt, but it is startling [try it on yourself, you’ll see] and it broke them of the habit quickly. When they’re not actually biting down, you don’t really feel the teeth.)

  16. Ah, but you see 8-9 hours is normal for adult humans. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re not two years old. In that case your sleep habits might be within the normal range.

    Wait, so if my less than 8-9 hours might be in the normal range, why would she be complaining about the child not sleeping more than that?

    Upon further research, it appears something like 11 hours or so is average, but ranges from 8-13 are common, so 8-9 hours is the short side of the normal range for a two-year-old, and my sleep habits would be highly abnormal.

  17. Rystefn, I don’t know what your experience with two-year olds is, but in my experience, they tend to sleep ten to twelve hours at night and often nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon. They also tend to be in constant motion every moment that they are awake and require the constant attention of their favorite adult. It’s perfectly understandable for that adult to want their beloved child to sleep just as much as possible, just so he or she can have a few moments of sanity each day.

  18. hmmm, sounds familiar .

    True story:
    I have a female friend/roommate who used to think herbal “medicin” was the end-all of affliction curing.

    Stomach aches? have some Anice. Fever? take some willowbark tea. the list goes on, and for the most part they do have some scientific backing. Bases in anice, salicin in the willow etc.

    Headache? salve of peppermint. Toothache? Take some wolfsbane…. Wait a second, why do I know wolfsbane? Oh, that’s right, it’s a deadly neurotoxin, quite capable killing you by merely picking it.

    Of course, she only told me after she allready took some and felt really numb in her mouth and started vomiting. One crazed drive the hospital and an emergency stomach pumping later, she switched to regular paracetamol (tylenol).

    She’s fine by the way. See people, ignorance does (almost) kill.

  19. In all honestly the amount of atropine is completely negligable. You’d be giving an infant about half a milligram of atropine in case of exposure to sarin gas.

    In other words, you’d need to give your kid about 2000 pills in order to match the therapeutic dosage for exposure to a nerve toxin.

    If you’ve ever fed your child mashed potatoes, you’ve fed them more atropine than these pills contain. Worry about the lactose and the caffeine, not the belladonna. Skepticism without education is tantamount to hysteria.

  20. patchworkgiant

    I’m sorry if you misunderstood me. I guess I assumed people either understood homeopathy or would follow the thinks to see that homeopathic medicines contain pretty much nothing except for water or lactose.

    Yes, you are correct that there is quite likely zero belladonna in the pills. I thought I explained that, but maybe I wasn’t clear on it. My point was that it’s not a good idea to give your kid these teething tabs, they’re pretty much useless, AND that belladonna manufacturing is unregulated. While there is VERY little chance of getting any belladonna in any tab, it’s probably not worth the risk.

    I did mention that the real danger of these tabs is in the lactose, BTW.

    My goal was not to send parents into hysteria over homeopathic crap pills.

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