White Tongue on Baby? A Guide to Oral Thrush

White Tongue on Baby? A Guide to Oral Thrush

Your newborn is the most important thing in your life, and you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. So, it’s only natural to be worried if you notice that your baby’s tongue isn’t pink as it should be but has a white coating instead. Although a white tongue in a baby isn’t exactly normal, rest assured that it isn’t unusual either. Usually, the cause is oral thrush – an easily treated condition, but it could even be something simple like milk residue.

What Is Oral Thrush?

A white tongue in a baby could be caused by a yeast infection called oral thrush. This is caused when the Candida fungus grows out of control. It’s the same kind of fungus that results in diaper rash and vaginal yeast infections. Oral thrush involves the infection forming on the areas of your baby’s mouth which your baby uses to suck, including their tongue, inner cheeks and lips.

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Oral Thrush?

Not every white tongue in a baby is down to oral thrush. The first thing to check is whether you can brush or wipe the white coating off your baby’s tongue. If you can, oral thrush isn’t the problem. Also, if oral thrush is the cause, the white coating usually won’t just be on the tongue, it’ll be on the inner cheeks, gums or lips too. Usually, it appears as yellow or white irregular patches which can cause pain and discomfort while sucking or eating. If your baby is especially fussy or distressed during feeds or while sucking on a pacifier, this could be a sign that they are suffering from oral thrush.

What Do I Do If My Baby Has Oral Thrush?

If you spot these symptoms, you don’t need to panic. However, you should make sure that you treat the infection even if it seems mild and isn’t causing any issues. The infection could become worse and this would cause discomfort or pain for your baby that makes feeding harder. It’s therefore important to make an appointment to see your baby’s pediatrician so that your baby can have a check-up, receive a diagnosis and be prescribed medicine that will cure the infection quickly.

What Causes Oral Thrush?

Oral thrush is rarely seen in adults, but it’s relatively common in babies. Why is this the case?

Baby’s have a developing immune system that isn’t strong enough to always combat infections or germs. This means that yeast can grow more easily. However, weak immune systems aren’t the sole culprit. If your little one is taking antibiotics for a different infection they can kill the good bacteria too, and this encourages yeast growth. If you’re breastfeeding, your nipples may also have yeast on them without you knowing and this could have spread to your baby’s mouth.

How Do I Treat Oral Thrush?

It’s only natural to be concerned if your baby is diagnosed with any kind of infection. However, rest assured that thrush is easy to treat and is very common in babies. Usually, your baby will be prescribed a liquid anti-fungal treatment which can be applied directly onto the white patches. This medicine will only work properly if it’s allowed to stay in your baby’s mouth or on their tongue for at least half an hour, so make sure you only give your little one their treatment a minimum of 30 minutes before feed-time. Once your baby starts taking the medicine, the infection will clear up within a few days.

Should I Be Worried About Oral Thrush If I’m Breastfeeding?

Both breastfed and bottle-fed babies can develop thrush. However, if you’re breastfeeding there are some additional considerations to keep in mind. This is because you and your baby may spread the infection to each other. Nipple thrush isn’t a common problem but it does occur. The symptoms to be aware of are painful nipples which suddenly occur after pain-free breastfeeding. Your nipples may also become blistered, itchy or cracked, or may start to ache after feedings.

If you have nipple thrush, treating your baby won’t resolve the problem. The medicine will clear up your baby’s infection however if your own infection isn’t treated too you will end up spreading the condition back and forth between you.

You can buy an over-the-counter antifungal cream to apply around and on your nipples following each feed. This will usually be sufficient to kill the infection. If you find that your infection is especially stubborn, you may need to see your doctor and get a prescription for a stronger anti-fungal cream. As yeast thrives in moist, warm areas, you should allow your breast to dry in the air as much as you can before you put your bra on. Also, remember you need to wash your nipples to ensure any cream residue is removed before breastfeeding your baby. If you follow this advice, you should find your symptoms disappear within a few days.

Are There Any Other Causes of a White Tongue in a Baby?

A white tongue in a baby may be oral thrush, but it could also be something much simpler – milk residue. It can be hard to distinguish between milk residue and oral thrush as they look very similar, but an easy way to spot the difference is to try wiping the residue away using a damp, warm cloth. If you find the residue is less noticeable or can be wiped away easily, the problem is milk residue, not thrush. It will also only be visible on your baby’s tongue, not their lips or cheeks.

Why does milk residue occur? The cause is simply because your baby lacks saliva. Newborns have mouths that are different from those of an adult. They don’t produce anywhere near as much saliva as an adult in the first four months of life. With less saliva, their mouths cannot wash away the milk easily. Also, milk residue occurs more frequently in babies with a tongue-tie. This is a condition which restricts tongue movement. If your baby’s tongue cannot reach the roof of their mouth, there is less friction and this causes milk residue to build up. Babies with a high palate also have a similar problem since their tongue is also unable to reach the top of their mouth.

Whatever the cause, milk residue is not permanent and is no cause for concern. A white tongue in a baby with milk residue will disappear once your little one is able to make more saliva or when they begin eating solids.

Should I Take My Baby to a Doctor Because of Their White Tongue?

Untreated thrush often causes discomfort and pain, and this results in your baby becoming distressed and fussy. If you find that your little one has a white tongue and you’re unable to remove it with a warm, damp cloth, you should visit your pediatrician. Also, if your baby is diagnosed with thrush and you’re breastfeeding, you should visit your doctor if you experience sore breasts or nipples to get treatment.

Can a White Tongue in a Baby Be Prevented?

A white tongue in a baby caused by milk residue can be prevented by gently brushing or wiping your little one’s tongue following each feed. To prevent thrush, the best course of action is to make sure that you’ve properly sterilized all of the equipment that you use to feed your baby, including bottles, breast pumps and nipples as well as toys and pacifiers that your baby is putting into his mouth. If you’re experiencing nipple thrush, you can prevent infection by changing breast pads frequently and ensuring your breasts are completely dry in between feeds. Wear cotton bras that won’t trap moisture and make sure your bras are thoroughly washed in hot water after each wear. Try to avoid taking antibiotics unless you really need to as antibiotics often trigger yeast infections.

It’s important to note, however, that even if you follow these steps your baby could still develop thrush. This is because your little one will encounter yeast when they go through the birth canal. Remember too, if you’ve expressed or frozen any breast milk while you and your baby had oral thrush, give it to your little one during the process of being treated. If you wait until afterward to feed the milk to your little one, the infection could easily return.

Am I Still Able to Breastfeed a Baby With Oral Thrush?

You may be worried about breastfeeding if you or your baby has been given a diagnosis of oral thrush, not to mention the fact that it can be painful for both of you. However, it’s important to still keep on offering the bottle or breast to your baby even while they are suffering. Once the medicine begins to kick in, the symptoms will subside and your little one will be able to eat normally once more and your nipples will stop hurting.