We all love to see a smiling baby—cooing, blowing bubbles, breastfeeding, or sleeping with a peaceful grin.
But what happens when your infant’s mouth is in pain? How can you tell when those funny looking white bumps aren’t just lingering milk or formula, but in fact, thrush?
In this post we will show you how to diagnose 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 or an oral yeast infection occurs 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. Fear not moms–we have some awesome natural solutions for helping you and baby that we cover in the treatment section below and even some ways to try and avoid oral thrush. (source)
Baby thrush symptoms
How do you know if your baby has thrush? When do you start worrying? I know, us moms never really stop worrying, but knowledge is power and the key to identifying thrush is examining how your baby’s mouth looks and how your baby is eating.
Here’s what to look for:
- White lesions, which can be on their tongue and cheeks, are a visible indicator
- Loss of appetite in baby
- Baby discomfort while nursing
The lesions in baby’s mouth can cause soreness and loss of taste, so it’s understandable that baby may be fussy.
What are the symptoms if you have thrush?
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 infants?
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 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, disease, and diet. You have a beautiful new baby, but hey, you’re tired and worn out, maybe not eating many nourishing meals for new moms, and that could be a factor.
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.
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.
Natural baby thrush treatment
What are some natural remedies for thrush? It all starts with baby’s belly.
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 the infant safe dose of acidophilus on my nipple while breastfeeding, as this has benefits for you and baby through direct contact with your nipple and baby’s infected area. Keep in mind, nursing will be more difficult than usual for you and baby, but if you can get baby to latch on this should begin to resolve the infection.
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)
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 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, what can we do to prevent it from happening? I may sound repetitive here, but find ways to keep that natural balance in your baby’s belly. If you or baby have to go on antibiotics, take a probiotic with it.
An even easier way to keep a natural yeast balance in you and baby is tasty too: garlic.
Getting plenty of garlic is easy for me, because I am the one at shrimp boils eating the whole cloves of garlic papa dropped in there, but you don’t have to go that far.
Cook with garlic if you like it, or take garlic extract if you don’t like it. Garlic works because it is a natural antifungal that reduces your chances of getting thrush or of thrush recurring.
Did your baby have thrush?
If you have any remedies that worked for you, let us know. Any that didn’t work? If you try one of our suggestions and have results (good or bad), let us know. We want to know what you think.
Do you know a mom or baby with thrush? We would love it if you shared our link to help a friend.