Health Library
Health Library

    Thrush in Babies: Symptoms, Causes, and Tips for Prevention

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 14 August 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Kate Shkodzik, MD, Obstetrician and gynecologist
    Flo Fact-Checking Standards

    Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

    Ever seen a strange, white coating inside your child’s mouth? It’s known as oral thrush – a type of fungal infection. Thankfully, there’s no need to worry. Thrush in infants is easily eliminated with medications.

    Symptoms and signs of thrush in baby’s mouth

    Thrush is essentially a yeast infection in the mouth. It has a number of telltale characteristics, including:

    • White patches inside the cheeks, on the roof of the mouth, and the tongue
    • Inflamed, red patches surrounding the white patches
    • Bleeding, particularly if you wipe the white patches away
    • Cracks or wounds at the corners of the mouth
    • Fussiness during breastfeeding or pacifier use
    • Baby cottonmouth

    Newborn thrush vs. milky tongue

    Symptoms of newborn thrush are often confused with those caused by having a milky tongue. Instead of white patches scattered throughout the mouth, it’s a creamy, white coating appearing on your baby’s tongue after breastfeeding. But this layer of curdled milk can simply be wiped away to reveal a healthy, pink tongue underneath.

    In cases of oral thrush, it’s far more difficult to remove the white patches which are probably covering a red, inflamed tongue below.

    Oral thrush in babies: how do babies get it?

    So just how do babies get thrush despite all the marvels of modern medicine? As your child comes through the birth canal during delivery, they’ll pick up some of the fungi normally found there.

    In fact, fungus can live on the surface of your newborn’s skin, and even mouth, without erupting into thrush. The condition only arises when certain environmental changes allow candida fungi, which produces thrush in babies, to proliferate. These factors include:

    • Decreased immunity levels
    • Usage of antibiotics (the bacteria they kill are responsible for managing fungal growth)
    • Usage of medications containing steroids

    How to get rid of oral thrush

    Left unchecked, the infection can dig in deeper and cause major discomfort for your little one. Feeding becomes something they dread because of the painful sores in their mouth. How can you help eliminate this nuisance?

    How to treat thrush in babies

    Although those pesky white patches sometimes disappear within a couple of weeks, it’s wise to see your pediatrician just in case. They may prescribe an antifungal gel that must be applied several times a day. It should be placed on your baby’s tongue, the roof of their mouth, and inside their cheeks.

    Should the infection be more serious, the doctor might choose to prescribe a liquid antifungal medication. You would then feed your child each dose using a dropper.

    Will continued breastfeeding lead to nipple thrush?

    You’re well aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, but you’re thinking about stopping your baby from suckling while they have thrush.

    Breast milk is a vital source of nutrition for infants, but there’s always a chance of contracting thrush via the nipples. Yeast colonizes the area, creating cracks in the nipples, along with pain, itchiness, and flaking during and after breastfeeding.

    It’s recommended that you and your baby get concurrent courses of treatment to avoid passing the infection back and forth. There’s no need for concern about medication contaminating your breast milk as the doctor will provide a safe topical ointment for your nipples.

    Can you prevent baby thrush?

    In the event of a natural birth, there’s no way to keep your newborn from coming into contact with fungi. But with proper care, you can reduce their likelihood of developing oral thrush.

    • When bottle-feeding, ensure that the artificial nipple is sterile. The same goes for pacifiers and other toys that they’re likely to put in their mouth.
    • Do not use antibiotics or steroid medications unless absolutely necessary. They tend to throw off the balance between good bacteria and yeast, encouraging the latter to trigger an infection.
    • Remember to change nursing pads after every feeding or you might create an environment suitable for fungal growth.

    Whenever you spot suspicious white patches in your little one’s mouth, try to determine whether it’s just milk residue or a symptom of oral thrush. If it’s the latter, be sure to consult your pediatrician and begin medical treatment for your baby right away.

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Reviewed by Kate Shkodzik, MD, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (14 August 2019)

    In this article

      Try Flo today