While it’s normal for infants to have white-coated tongues after feeding, how do we know for sure if these white bumps aren’t in fact oral thrush in babies?
In this post, we will show you how to determine thrush in babies, treat it naturally, and prevent it from recurring.
What is thrush in babies?
Thrush, or oral candidiasis, is an accumulation of the fungus candida albicans in the mouth that causes white lesions, or sores, that look more like cottage cheese than the normal milky whiteness associated with babies’ milk tongue from breastmilk or formula.
This fungus is normally present in everyone’s mouth, but thrush in babies occurs more frequently in infants because of their weak immune systems.
Breastfeeding moms are at risk to get thrush too since the infection can pass to mom’s breast (and oppositely, mom can pass it back to baby) and cause serious discomfort and pain (btw, this nipple cream seriously helps!). Fear not– we have some awesome natural solutions for babies with thrush (and moms too!) below and even some preventative tips to avoid this bad bacteria in the first place. (source)
Baby thrush symptoms
How do you know if your baby has oral thrush? When do you start worrying? The key to identifying thrush in babies is by simply examining your baby’s mouth, cheeks and tongue very carefully and watch closely how your baby is eating. (Keep in mind that baby can get also get a form of thrush that looks like a bad diaper rash. Read more about here.)
Here’s what to look for:
- White lesions on child’s tongue and cheeks. These can be raised spots, a super thick coating, or overall tissue irritation
- Loss of appetite in baby
- Discomfort in baby while nursing
The lesions in baby’s mouth can cause pain and loss of taste, so it’s understandable that baby may be fussy.
When thrush is passed to a nursing a mom, you might find that:
- Your nipples are unusually red, cracked, sensitive or itchy
- You experience pain while nursing
- Your nipples feel sore between feedings
While all breastfeeding moms know nursing can be painful at times, pain from thrush is more intense, deeper than usual, and does not go away when your baby is done feeding. (source)
What causes thrush in babies?
Your baby is fussy, your nipples are so sore you just want to live in a warm bath, and you ask yourself, “how did this happen?”
As we said earlier, the fungus or yeast that causes thrush is naturally occurring and prevalent in most people’s bodies. However, a weakened immune system can cause a yeast accumulation in babies.
Antibiotics can play a major role in this. Our bodies, and our babies’ bodies, have a natural balance of microorganisms that keep us healthy. Bacteria sounds like a bad word, but there’s good bacteria and bad bacteria and antibiotics don’t discriminate. So, when mom or baby has to go on antibiotics, this disrupts the natural flora balance and makes us more susceptible to thrush. Luckily, there are so many wonderful ways to restore our balance, which we will talk about in the prevention section below. (source)
If neither you nor baby have been on antibiotics, there are other things that can weaken your immune system, such as illness, a poor diet, being exposed to harsh chemicals or just not getting enough sleep (very common with a newborn!).
So don’t be hard on yourself! Candida is a very opportunistic yeast and will pounce if you’re run down and relying on too much sugar or chocolate to cope.
If you go to your pediatrician, they will usually prescribe oral nystatin or fluconazole for you and baby. These are antifungal options that have been proven effective.
If you are a natural mama like me and want to try to avoid these if possible, we have some excellent options for you.
Just remember, thrush happens to many new moms and babies, though one study found it occurred less in homes where there was a furry pet, like a cat or dog. It is a common occurrence (especially in breastfed babies due to the warm moist area yeast likes) and is treatable.
Natural thrush treatments
Be sure to get your doctor or pediatrician’s approval before using these natural remedies for thrush.
Probiotics found in yogurt and breastmilk are a great place to start. If your baby is too young for yogurt there are safe probiotics for infants that you can look into. My doula recommended rubbing a serving of acidophilus powder on my nipple while breastfeeding, as this benefits both you and baby and your infected areas. Keep in mind, nursing may be difficult, but if you can get baby to latch on this should begin to resolve the bacterial imbalance.
If you are a nursing mom, reducing your sugar intake is essential, as a sugary diet can make symptoms worse (another reason why some moms and midwives are not fans of nystatin, which can contain sugar in order to make it palatable for infants, but it’s effectiveness is reduced in the process). (source) Check out these nourishing meals for a new mama for inspiration!
Grapefruit seed extract mixed with distilled water is another way to combat the yeast causing thrush. Grapefruit seed extract is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial compound made from the seeds and pulp of grapefruit. The recommended dosage is 10 drops of GSE (where to buy) mixed with one ounce of water, which is swabbed on mom’s sore nipples and baby’s tender mouth before nursing, just like the recommendation with probiotics.
Gentian Violet is another popular natural remedy for thrush. It is an antiseptic dye used to treat a myriad of fungal infections. However, what makes this remedy unpopular is the possible side-effect of increased swelling or soreness and the fact that it does turn your skin purple.
Yes, us moms can set aside our pride easily in order to relieve our baby’s pain and our discomfort, but it is important to note that you will have purple nipples and a baby who looks like they rubbed their face in blackberries for a few days. (source)
How oral thrush is treated around the world
Sometimes, here in the United States, we focus more on pharmaceuticals than natural remedies. Here is how other countries treat oral thrush:
- Europe: Thyme is found to be effective against oral thrush.
- China: Many cleanse when they have thrush, which speaks to our knowledge of diet and yeast balance.
- South Africa: Lemon juice is a common treatment.
- Russia: Oil-pulling is a common treatment which uses antifungal oils such as coconut oil and olive oil.
Baby thrush prevention
So, now that we know some ways to treat thrush in babies, what can we do to prevent it from happening? It’s all about supporting a natural flora balance in you and baby.
Some simple ways to do this include:
- Regularly consume fermented foods that are high in naturally occurring probiotics like like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.
- Consider adding a good probiotic to your daily supplements. Just Thrive, BioKult and Prescript Assist are some of my favorites.
- Eliminate junk food, sugar and soda from your diet
- Keep your natural sugar intake low (even fruit). No more than 2-3 servings a day.
- Include antibacterial and antifungal foods regularly in your diet such as: garlic, herbs like thyme and oregano, raw coconut oil and butter, black cumin seed oil (where to buy), raw pumpkin seeds, etc.
- If you or baby ever have to go on antibiotics, take a probiotic too (at least 4 hours away from the antibiotic dose)
For garlic consumption, some moms love roasting cloves and spreading on toast. You can also make some of my pistachio pesto. Or simply throw some minced garlic into a veggie stir-fry or salad dressing. The key is to have regularly to reduce your chances of getting thrush or of thrush recurring.
Did you or your baby have thrush?
If you have any thrush remedies that worked for you, let us know in the comments below! Bottom line: You can tame thrush in babies (and in yourself!). It just takes some diligence, discipline and determination. You’ve got this, mama!