Thrush, which is caused by overgrowth of yeast in the mouth, can be a common concern for new parents. Whether your baby is bottle-fed or breast-fed, right after a meal, your infant's tongue can appear white, and it can be confusing to know whether it's simply milk or a symptom of thrush. Find out what to look for, how to prevent thrush in breastfeeding and the best ways to treat it.
What Is Thrush in Babies?
According to the American Dental Association, candidiasis, also known as oral thrush, is a fungal infection that results from an overproduction of yeast in the mouth. While some yeast in your mouth and digestive system is normal and healthy, certain factors can cause it to become unbalanced. Thrush is more likely to occur if you have a lowered immune system, wear dentures, are on an antibiotic treatment or if you have a condition that results in dry mouth. Because babies, and particularly infants in the first three months of life, have a growing immune system, they can be more susceptible to the thrush.
Though you might be very concerned about thrush, and you'll likely see similar concerns across parenting message boards, only 5 to 7 percent of babies younger than a month old actually get it, and it's more common in populations with poor nutrition, notes the Centers for Disease Control. Likewise, older children are susceptible mainly as a result of antibiotic use, per The University of Chicago Pediatrics Clerkship.
Symptoms of Thrush vs. Milk on Tongue
Thrush can occur anywhere in the mouth, on the tongue, cheek or lips. Your baby may have dry, cracked skin at the edge of their mouth and may avoid feeding, says KidsHealth.org. What is thrush in babies can commonly be mistaken as milk on your child's tongue. But unlike milk, thrush doesn't wipe away easily and it also looks thicker. Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you see these signs.
Is Thrush Painful?
Of course, your most pressing concern is whether your baby is in pain and how fast you can treat the condition. If your baby is avoiding or having trouble feeding, it can be because their mouth is sore. But many babies don't feel any pain, reports KidsHealth. The condition is not serious and usually goes away within one to two weeks of treatment, or sooner, reports the National Health Service (NHS).
Preventing Thrush in Breastfeeding
Unfortunately, thrush can be transferred and passed from mother to child via breastfeeding, and cracked or dry nipples can be a symptom. Get in the habit of cleaning and drying the area after each feeding with a cotton ball or cloth, and seek your doctor's advice on balms and ointments that are safe to use while breastfeeding.
Making dietary changes can also be helpful. Consider yogurt that contains acidophilus, a probiotic that can guard against thrush, and decrease your intake of sugar or yeast-based foods, which can contribute to overproduction of candida. Also, make sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize bottles, breast pump equipment, clothes and nursing bras on a regular basis.
If you suspect your baby has thrush, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your pediatrician may prescribe antifungal medicine that can either be administered as a topical medication or in a liquid dropper. The treatment is typically given at least four times a day and after a feeding, per the NHS, and you can expect the regimen to last anywhere from one to two weeks. You may also receive a prescription of fluconazale, an antifungal treatment, for thrush in your milk ducts. The Canadian Family Physician reports that even a high dosage taken as prescribed is "compatible with breastfeeding."
One of the easiest ways to avoid thrush is to focus on good oral hygiene early on. Wipe your infant's gums with a soft, clean cloth or gauze at least once or twice a day. You can begin brushing as soon as your baby's first tooth erupts. A dollop of Colgate My First Fluoride-Free toothpaste, which contains no artificial colors, fluoride, perservatives or sodium lauryl sulfate, is a gentle way to begin cleaning your child's teeth.