Posted on May 20, 2021 By Staci Whitman, DMD
Has your baby been extra fussy lately and weird when you’re nursing? Peek inside your baby’s mouth and see if there are any white spots…
If you see these telltale white spots, you may have a case of oral thrush on your hands.
Don’t panic! Thrush is a very common health problem in babies, and there are many natural ways to treat and prevent this fungal overgrowth.
What is oral thrush?
Thrush is the overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans in the mouth.
Oral thrush, also known as candidiasis, is a common yeast infection that can affect the mouth, especially in babies and elderly people.
Is thrush contagious?
Thrush can spread from a baby’s mouth to a mother’s breast through nursing. It can also spread from a mother’s nipple to a baby’s mouth in the reverse fashion. Thrush can go back and forth between mother and child until the issue is addressed naturally or with medical treatment.
Signs of Thrush in Babies
The most common signs of oral thrush in babies are:
- Excessive fussiness
- Problems with breastfeeding
- White and/or yellow lesions on the tongue and inside of the mouth
- Signs of pain centralized to the mouth
How do you know if your baby has thrush? Your baby may have thrush if they suddenly have trouble nursing and are more fussy than usual.
Is thrush painful for babies? Unfortunately, thrush lesions can be uncomfortable or even painful, which leads to difficulty eating and fussiness.
Causes of Thrush in Babies
Oral thrush is caused by an overgrowth of the Candida albicans fungus within the mouth. Often, little ones develop thrush when the baby’s tongue is exposed to a yeast infection in the vaginal canal.
An overgrowth of Candida in the body can result in oral thrush, diaper rash, and vaginal yeast infections. Oral thrush in babies can often be accompanied by a diaper rash.
It’s natural for both babies and adults to have Candida yeast present in their digestive tracts and mouths. When it’s a normal level of Candida, there are typically no unwanted symptoms or health concerns. However, when the body’s microbiome becomes out of balance, an overgrowth of Candida albicans fungus can occur and lead to oral thrush in babies or adults.
In adults, thrush can occur due to a weakened immune system. In babies, thrush can happen because they do not yet have fully developed immune systems.
Oral thrush is also often seen in babies (and adults) after a round of antibiotics since antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria, which results in a suboptimal microbiome.
Symptoms of thrush can include:
- Creamy white lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, and sometimes on the roof of the mouth, gums, and/or tonsils
- Slightly raised lesions with a cottage cheese-like appearance
- Redness, burning, or soreness that may be severe enough to cause difficulty eating or swallowing
- Slight bleeding if the lesions are rubbed or scraped
- Cracking and redness at the mouth corners
- Thrush in babies diaper area (diaper rash)
Moms experiencing a Candida infection of the breast may experience:
- Unusually sensitive, red, cracked, or itchy nipples
- Shiny or flaky skin on the areola
- Unusual pain while nursing
- Nipple pain between feedings
- Shooting pains deep within the breast
Treatments for Thrush
How do you get rid of thrush in babies? To get rid of oral thrush in babies, you may have to wait out the infection; but some thrush infections require medical intervention. A conventional healthcare provider may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter medication.
Medical treatment for oral thrush in babies often includes an antifungal solution (such as nystatin or fluconazole) to apply to your baby’s mouth multiple times a day for 10 days. Your doctor may also recommend an antifungal ointment for mom to apply to her nipples.
If your baby also has a diaper rash that is the result of a yeast infection, your provider will likely recommend prescription antifungal medication for the diaper rash as well.
There are a few options for over-the-counter baby thrush treatment, but make sure to check with your pediatrician before using any of these options.
Conventional antifungal medicines (both prescription and OTC) can come with some unwanted side effects such as diarrhea, irritation, and more, which is why you may want to consider home remedies for oral thrush in babies as your first line of attack.
Home Remedies for Thrush
How can I treat my baby’s thrush at home? Home remedies for oral thrush in babies may include items you may already have around your house, like baking soda, coconut oil, and salt water.
These are some gentle yet effective remedies that are especially likely to work if your baby has a mild case of oral thrush.
To use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for your baby’s thrush:
- Dissolve a half teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of warm water.
- Using a cotton ball, apply this diluted baking soda to the inside of your baby’s mouth.
The mix can also be used on the nipples by mom between feeding sessions.
Coconut oil isn’t just a tasty ingredient and a fantastic natural moisturizer; it also contains an anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal agent called caprylic acid. Research demonstrates that caprylic acid can successfully kill off the Candida albicans yeast that causes oral thrush.
Use a cotton swab to dab coconut oil on the white patches in your baby’s mouth. You can also apply it to your nipples if you’re a nursing mom.
A warning for using coconut oil for oral thrush in babies: It is possible to be allergic to coconut oil. Discontinue use if you notice any type of allergic reaction in your baby.
Before you turn to prescription antifungal medication for your baby’s lesions, you may want to try good old salt water instead.
To use salt water as a home remedy for oral thrush:
- Dissolve a half teaspoon of good quality sea salt in warm water.
- Apply it to the lesions using a small, clean sponge or cotton swab.
The salty water is a soothing natural antiseptic that, applied regularly, might make those lesions disappear.
Yogurt and Probiotics
If your baby is eating regular food, unsweetened milk yogurt or kefir is a great choice right about now. The high probiotic content of these foods can help to balance out your baby’s microbiome.
Just make sure to avoid a sugary yogurt or kefir — the Candida yeast feeds on sugar.
If yogurt isn’t an option, look for an infant-appropriate probiotic supplement.
Gentian violet is a popular home remedy for thrush in babies. Although this natural treatment may be useful, it easily stains and carries risks (especially if it’s overused), including irritating the sensitive oral mucous membranes of a baby’s mouth.
Talk with your provider before trying this remedy and consider it as your last natural option.
Can you breastfeed if your baby has thrush?
You can continue to breastfeed if you and/or your baby has thrush. Some babies will nurse just fine, while others may struggle a bit.
Can you prevent thrush?
Since thrush is caused by fungal overgrowth, it’s crucial to maintain a nourishing, whole foods-based diet and other habits that encourage a healthy microbiome. A fungal infection like thrush may still occur, but these are definitely ways to prevent one in the first place.
Good Oral Hygiene
Your baby may not have teeth yet, but daily wiping their gums and tongue with a wet washcloth is the start of a good dental health regimen.
Once baby teeth erupt, brush them twice a day to reduce not only plaque that can cause cavities but also to prevent an overgrowth of yeast that can cause oral thrush.
Smart Breastfeeding Habits
Whenever possible, let your nipples dry thoroughly in between feedings to avoid bacterial overgrowth. Changing nursing pads after each feeding can help, too.
Cotton bras can also support ventilation. Wash bras often in hot water, especially if you or your baby has an active thrush infection.
Emphasis on a Healthy Diet
Your diet and your baby’s diet (if he or she is old enough) can go a long way to discourage or encourage a thrush infection.
Candida loves to feed on sugary and starchy foods, so if you’re going to reduce or cut out anything from your diet, this is definitely the place to start. Avoid high sugar beverages, processed foods, and starchy items like cakes, cookies, muffins, etc.
Instead, focus on high-fiber veggies that feed healthy (commensal) bacteria in the mouth and gut. Aim for your little one to consume nutrient-dense whole foods whenever possible.
Support Your Microbiome
To support your baby’s microbiome, I recommend that you take probiotics as a nursing mom. This allows you to pass that good bacteria on to your baby and strengthen both mom and baby’s immune systems.
Breastfeeding, in general, is also a great way to bolster your baby’s immune system. Human milk is known to encourage a healthier microbiome and a healthier immune system in babies.
Supplementing with probiotics is especially important after mom or baby has taken antibiotics. Research demonstrates that Lactobacillus strains of probiotics are most helpful in fighting Candida infections.
If you’re bottle-feeding, you can also look for options via formula or supplements to provide them with more probiotics in their diet daily.
Other Tips to Prevent Thrush
Here are some other great ways to prevent thrush (in both baby and mom):
- Wash your baby’s hands, pacifiers, and toys regularly to prevent bacterial growth that can get into your baby’s mouth and disrupt their microbiome (making yeast overgrowth more likely).
- If you use a breast pump, sterilize it regularly.
- Always refrigerate breast milk until right before you give it to your baby to discourage yeast growth.
- When you or your baby have thrush, it’s extra essential to wash bras, clothing, burp cloths, etc., in hot water.
Whatever you do, try not to freak out if you realize your baby has oral thrush. It’s a widespread occurrence, and it responds well to treatment. It even goes away on its own sometimes! Thrush can also be prevented in both mom and baby, and now you know those prevention tips.
When to Call a Doctor
Oral thrush is typically not a problem for healthy children and adults. However, it can spread from the mouth to the tonsils or back of the throat.
Once you notice that your baby has signs of oral thrush, it’s a good idea to give your pediatrician and/or pediatric dental provider a call to get professional medical advice and discuss the best course of action.
Cases of oral thrush can clear up without medical treatment after a week or two, but you or your doctor may not want to wait that long. I highly recommend trying home remedies, especially if you get the green light from your doctor.
Going forward, don’t forget that cutting out sugars and adding probiotics to your diet can go a long way to prevent thrush in both you and your nursing baby.
- Bae, Y.S. & Rhee, M.S. (2019). Short-Term Antifungal Treatments of Caprylic Acid with Carvacrol or Thymol Induce Synergistic 6-Log Reduction of Pathogenic Candida albicans by Cell Membrane Disruption and Efflux Pump Inhibition. Cell Physiol Biochem, 53(2), 285-300. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31334617/
- Mundula, T., Ricci, F., Barbetta, B., Baccini, M. & Amedei, A. (2019). Effect of Probiotics on Oral Candidiasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 11(10), 2449. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6836010/