Thrush & White Tongue in Babies

As all parents know, babies are unpredictable and especially for new parents, things can crop up what we really have no clue about. If your baby has a white tongue, you might be wondering if something is wrong. It could be thrush, the common yeast infection that presents as a white film on your baby’s tongue. However, it also could be milk residue from a recent feed. Understanding the causes of a white tongue can help parents confidently decide which is which.

Common causes

A white tongue is the result of dirt, dead cells or fungi building up between the bumps (called papillae) on the surface of your tongue. White patches on the tongue and elsewhere in the mouth that can’t be rubbed off can indicate thrush at any age. If your baby has a white tongue, milk residue is the most common cause. In this case, your baby’s white tongue is not thrush.

Signs of Thrush

White film that doesn’t wipe away easily with a cloth may be a case of thrush. Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast and may appear as milky white patches inside your baby’s mouth. Thrush rarely appears exclusively on the tongue and will often coat the parts of the mouth your baby uses to suck, like the inner and outer lips and inner cheeks.

Thrush can cause irritability, general fussiness, and aversion to sucking or feeding. However, most babies experience little discomfort and moderate symptoms. You should seek treatment as soon as possible, particularly if your newborn struggles to latch on, or refuses to eat.

Treating Thrush

Thrush is treatable. Your doctor may prescribe an antifungal ointment to be applied directly to the white patches. The medication is no longer effective when swallowed, so leave the medication to sit in the mouth and avoid feeding for 30 minutes. Your doctor will advise you on how frequently to apply the antifungal, though it may be up to four times a day for a week. Thrush usually resolves in four to five days. The doctor may check the mother’s nipples for signs of thrush and prescribe a topical cream to prevent the mother and her baby from passing the infection back and forth.

Preventing Thrush

Whether your baby is breastfed or formula-fed, you’ll likely notice a milky white glaze on their tongue after a long feeding. Formula tends to have a brighter appearance, while breast milk may be less noticeable. One of the best steps you can take to prevent thrush is carefully cleaning your baby’s mouth, your breasts, and your feeding equipment like bottles and breast pumps. Take extra care while breastfeeding to avoid dry or cracked nipples, which can create an environment for yeast to thrive.

If your baby does develop a case of thrush, don’t worry. Most infections are non-threatening and treatable and will go away in a few days with the proper care and treatment—something you and your baby can smile about.