It’s becoming more common to see little people wearing jewelry – and not just any jewelry: amber bead necklaces. They are really cute on kids and I, for one, have always been a fan of the look of amber. I had no idea why so many kids were wearing these necklaces until I dug into it further. Amber is said to help babies and toddlers feel better while teething and so parents are turning to these necklaces, anklets and bracelets as a soothing aid.
Amber is not the normal variety of stone or gem used in jewelry but is fossilized tree resin. It can vary in color from yellow to green to brown and is much softer than stone. Remember the whole theory behind Jurassic Park: amber can contain age old insects. In addition to dead bugs, amber also always contains succinic acid which is the whole reason that babies are sporting this beaded amber jewelry. This acid is understood to have pain relieving properties when the it’s released from amber via heat from the baby’s body temperature. Additionally, Baltic amber is said to contain the highest concentrations of it compared to amber sourced elsewhere and that darker orange/ brown amber from the Baltic region has the most.
Amber advocates say to wear the jewelry against the skin and closest to the point of pain and so the most common use for babes is a necklace. Amber jewelry intended for babies should have some safety considerations built in including a knot tied between each bead so that if the strand breaks, only one bead would fall off. Also, claps are often the screw variety. The amber is not intended to be chewed and is also really not supposed to be worn when sleeping or unattended. In fact, there was a near strangling incident in Australia that’s been abuzz in the media of late. The little girl was wearing it while sleeping and got her arm caught in the necklace while around her neck.
Doubting Succinic Acid
I’m rather apprehensive about these assertions. If you look up succinic acid in chemistry databases, there’s no mention of pain relief properties. It’s used to make lacquers, perfumes and is a filler for some medicines. It’s actually listed as a skin irritant. According to this doctor, succinic acid is produced in the Krebs Cycle (High School Biology: Krebs produces ATP or energy) so may have some affect on the body. However, he says that amount contained within and released from amber would be so tiny, it couldn’t make any difference. There has also been little to no study on the subject.
I’ve talked to many mamas who say they had their doubts about amber bead necklaces but they work – really work. Their children were extremely unhappy and in pain while teething. Soothing gels, medicine and so forth didn’t work to calm them. Then moms put amber on the kid, and they were calmed, drooled less and in overall better moods. Apparently there are enough nonscientific stories like this that sell amber necklaces worldwide.
I’m not sure that I am sold on the idea but I’m not saying that if I was at the end of my rope, I wouldn’t have tried it. What I think would be most important, especially in light of the Australian girl, would be to only wear the necklaces when extremely supervised. Baby hoodies aren’t even sold with real strings anymore, after all. Any sort of strangulation risk should be highly avoided, in my opinion, so maybe an anklet would have made me feel better.