Amber necklaces have been sold for several years now, with sellers claiming that they release soothing chemicals into the bloodstream when warmed by your baby's skin.
They are advertised for relief of teething pain, colic and to improve sleep.
Many parents receive them as gifts for their baby and a few feel thay they may actually be helpful, though most would admit they notice no change.
Sadly, there is no evidence whatsoever of benefit.
Any effect they have is most likely to be due to the presence of a readily available toy (the necklace) or chance alone.
Though there is a known painkilling compound in amber, it is not present in any significant quantity and does not get released unless the amber is heated to well above the boiling point of water. To be fair, there are no quality published trials of amber necklaces, though given the safety concerns about them it would be extremely difficult to conduct a proper randomised trial.
On the safety issue, there are two risks associated with amber necklace - choking on the beads and strangling with the cord.
Most necklaces are knotted at every bead to stop beads coming off and are made of strong thread to prevent breakage. This reduces the risk of bead choking to a minimum, though of course, if the cord does break, at least two beads will be released.
The overwhelming majority are fitted with a durable screw closure, like the one pictured above. It is the strength of the thread and the closure that leads to them being a risk when placed around a child's neck. An arm pushed through or the necklace catching on toys or furnishing poses a risk of death. Children can panic when they are strangled and this may lead to rapid loss of consciousness without much noise being made (there is no screaming as the airway is cut off) Necklaces have been implicated in SIDS cases (without solid evidence that they were to blame) and in occasional other cases of child death by strangulation. We suggest that it is simply not worth the risk of placing anything around a child's neck.
Jade pendants may pose a similar risk, especially to New Zealand babies and should be seen as a similar health hazard.
If you do decide that you would like your baby to wear an amber necklace and that the risk is worth it, we suggest that you consider the following:
- Make sure that any necklaces have a clip closure, rather than a screw or loop, These are probably safer though there is no evidence to support this.
- If you have a screw closure device, cut it off and instead use ordinary machine sewing cotton to secure the necklace. This will break more readily.
- ALWAYS remove the necklace when your baby is asleep, even if you have a clip closure.
- Remove necklaces from children old enough to stand on their own.
This may seem to be a lot of trouble for a small risk, but we feel your child is precious and deserves the best advice and care they can get.
Amber closure: Sumner Health Centre