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? Here, we’ll show you how to spot thrush in babies, how to treat it naturally, and how to 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.
Baby Thrush Symptoms
The key to identifying thrush in babies is by simply examining your baby’s mouth, cheeks, and tongue very carefully. And watch your baby’s eating habits closely.
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.
Thrush symptoms in breastfeeding moms
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)
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What Causes Thrush in Babies?
The fungus or yeast that causes thrush is naturally occurring and prevalent in most people’s bodies. 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. The good news, though: It is a common occurrence (especially in breastfed babies due to the warm moist area yeast likes) and is treatable.
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)
Weakened immune system
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!). Check out this post for natural ways to boost your immune system.
Natural Thrush Treatments
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. But if you want to try to avoid these if possible, these are some excellent options. (Just be sure to get your doctor or pediatrician’s approval before using these natural remedies for thrush.)
1. Probiotics found in yogurt and breastmilk
If your baby is too young for yogurt there are safe probiotics for babies 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.
2. Reducing sugar intake
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.
3. Grapefruit seed extract
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.
4. Calendula extract
Pure calendula extract (where to buy) can be used to help eliminate thrush. Calendula extract can be used an alternative to gentian violet (which we’ll cover in the next section). Studies show that this herbal extract can inhibit yeast growth. (source) Mamas can paint the extract on their nipples, but it’s also possible to paint the extract on your baby’s tongue too.
Tip: Always check with your pediatrician before administering any extracts or herbal preparations to your baby.
5. Take a peek at mama’s diet
In addition to reducing sugar intake, mama can infuse her diet with plenty of anti-fungal and anti-bacterial foods. This includes:
What About Gentian Violet?
Gentian violet is another popular natural remedy for thrush. In fact, when I was pregnant with Griffin, this was the go-to remedy, but should you use it?
It is an antiseptic dye used to treat a myriad of fungal infections. Despite the popularity of gentian violet, we can’t recommend this as a natural treatment for thrush for a few reasons.
The first concern that makes this remedy unpopular is the possible side-effect of increased swelling or soreness and the fact that it does turn your skin purple. Mamas who used gentian violent are quick to note purple nipples and a baby who looks like they rubbed their face in blackberries for a few days. (source) Purple staining is a nuisance, but that’s not the only issue with gentian violet.
Another (and more serious) problem with gentian violent is the potential carcinogen factor. Health Canada has issued warnings about gentian violent (source), and New Zealand dermatologists warn of potential for necrotic tissue. (source) Yikes!
For these reasons, it’s best to take a pass on gentian violet.
Preventing Baby Thrush
So, now that we know some ways to treat thrush in babies, what can we do to prevent it from happening in the first place? 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. (This is especially important if you or your baby ever have to take antibiotics.)
- 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.
How About You?
Did you or your baby have thrush? If you have any thrush remedies that worked for you, let us know in the comments below!