3 home remedies for treating your baby’s oral thrush

by Laura Howells
6 mins reading time
(Updated )

Baby yawning with white coating covering the tongue

Natural Remedies You Can Use At Home To Treat Your Baby’s Oral Thrush

Many parents are looking for natural ways to treat their baby's oral thrush. I know this is true for my area - many parents I work with living in The Bay Area will avoid taking antibiotics if they can help it.

Previously, I covered natural home remedies for treating nipple thrush. In this post, I will provide information on oral thrush treatment in babies.

What Is Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is a condition in which Candida Albicans, a yeast/fungus, overgrows in the mouth. Technically thrush can be caused by other strains of the Candida fungus, however, C. Albicans is the most common.

We have Candida all over and in our bodies, including in our mouths. Only when there's an overgrowth of the Candida population that it becomes an issue. An imbalance in the immune system, an immature immune system, and/or a disruption in the balance of the bacteria populations are the most common causes of the development of thrush. If a baby is born when the parent has an active yeast infection, they may be more likely to develop oral thrush.

Oral Thrush Symptoms in babies may include

  • White coating /cottony patches in the mouth
  • Bleeding when the patches/coating is wiped off
  • Areas of redness inside the oral space
  • Fussiness / Irritability
  • Shorter Feeds or Feeding Refusal

Will A Natural Remedy For Oral Thrush Work?

One of the biggest challenges with managing oral thrush is identifying it. Many parents (and providers alike!) confuse oral thrush with milk tongue, as both may present with a white coating on the tongue. When babies have oral thrush, they often develop cottony patches on many parts of their mouths, not just the tongue.

If you notice white areas on the wet surface of their lips & cheeks, it's likely thrush, and the at-home remedies discussed below should help. You should expect to see fewer white patches within five days.

Resolution of symptoms after home treatment will not be the case for the milk tongue- the likely being a build-up of milk on the tongue surface due to poor tongue lift. While milk tongue is not an issue in itself, it can be a sign of feeding challenges & if you're dealing with "thrush-like symptoms," feeding challenges may be to blame.

Oral thrush is significantly over-diagnosed & thereby, babies are overtreated. Thrush is not as common as once thought. In fact, it is often the least likely explanation for the symptoms parents report.

For this reason, I highly encourage you to schedule a visit if you suspect your baby has thrush or, at the very least, if you don't see any improvement after trialing at-home thrush management, especially if you're having nipple pain.

How Do At-Home Remedies Treat Oral Thrush?

A thrush infection may be treated in two ways: by destroying the fungus cell or stopping it from growing and replicating. In both circumstances, the goal is to bring the Candida population back into balance, resulting in the reversal of symptoms.

One of the benefits of treating oral thrush, as opposed to nipple thrush, is that we can act directly on the fungus cell, killing it. Killing the fungus cell via direct application is the idea behind some of the recommendations you can find online such as oral application of herbal extracts & gentian violet.

A Note About Herbal Extracts

Many herbal extracts have shown effectiveness against candida & some have even looked at how well they work against oral thrush. One of note is Tumeric, an herb with potent antifungal properties that has been shown to kill candida in multiple studies*. One major consideration with using turmeric extract, for example, to treat oral thrush is that they are alcohol-based & may cause a burning sensation with the application if there are any areas of redness or sores. Additionally, no herbal extract available on the market has been studied for thrush treatment or use in babies.

Herbal extracts are not the same as herbal essential oils (EOs). Many posts discuss treating oral thrush naturally & include recommendations for essential oils, though there are conflicting opinions about the safety of oral usage of EOs. Herbal extracts, on the other hand, such as teas or tinctures, are well recognized as being safe for ingestion.

* There are, of course, countering studies that show modest to no effects on candida Albicans, especially compared to prescription antifungal medication used to treat oral thrush.

A Note About Gentian Violet

There's little doubt about its effectiveness in treating oral thrush- it certainly will get the job done. However, concerns have emerged over the years about its potential toxicity & cancerogenic effects, especially with the oral application. Using GV for too long may cause significant irritation & ulcers. It's messy & it stains- staining may make follow-up assessment a challenge. Due to these factors, Gentian Violet has fallen out of favor, and I don't recommend its use in my practice.

A Note About Grapefruit Seed Extract

Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) is a commonly recommended home remedy for oral thrush. The evidence supports that GSE can & does kill CandidaAlbicans, though I could find no studies that looked at the effectiveness against oral thrush infections. One major drawback to using it for oral thrush is that it can burn the mucosal membranes in the wrong concentration. Unfortunately, there is a lack of clear guidance about what concentrations pose little risk & and many parents are buying whatever option is available to them, regardless of the concentration. Because there are lower-risk alternatives, I don't recommend it to the parents I work with.

Natural Remedies For Getting Rid Of Your Baby's Thrush?

Swab Your Babys Mouth With Baking Soda Solution

The method:

1.  Mix 1 tsp of Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) & 1 cup of warm water.

2.  Use a q-tip to apply the baking soda solution to all parts of your baby's mouth.

3.  Apply 3–4 x a day.

The science: Thrush thrives in acidic environments, so by changing the ph level of your baby's mouth to be more alkaline, you can help prevent the reproduction & growth of Candida cells.

Apply Coconut Oil To The Inside Of Your Baby's Mouth

The method: Use a q tip to gently apply coconut oil to your baby's tongue & the insides portion of their lips & cheeks 4 x a day. If you're also doing the baby soda swabs, apply the coconut oil afterward.

The science: Coconut oil contains high amounts of fatty acids & direct application of fatty acids to Candida cells has been shown to kill them.

Sterilize Pacis, Bottles, Nipple Shield & Toys Your Baby Chew One Daily

The method: Sterilize your baby's pacifiers, bottles, or anything they put in their mouth at least once a day by boiling them for at least 10 minutes.

The science: boiling kills off any thrush spores that have been transferred from your baby's mouth onto the object's surface.

Offer Yogurt & Fermented Foods With Meals (If Your Baby Is Old Enough)

The method: If your baby is eating solids, you can offer yogurt, kefir, or the juice of fermented foods, such as fermented pickles or sauerkraut, with their meals. Fermented foods have a distinctive sour taste which your baby may find intense. Luckily a little goes a long way to populating your baby's gut with beneficial probiotics.

Best brands for probiotic-rich yogurt includes Stonyfield & Siggi. If your baby has a dairy sensitivity or allergy, you can try GT Cocoyo Living Coconut Yogurt, which you can find at Whole Foods.

The science: Probiotics help boost the immune system to help the body restore the balance of the yeast populations in/on your baby's body.

Can I Get Nipple Thrush If My Baby Has Oral Thrush?

Technically thrush is considered spreadable, though it's not exactly what occurs. Candida cells certainly are passed back and forth between your nipple and your baby's mouth- this is true for bacteria as well. However, thrush only occurs if the person the yeast is on has an immune system that can't keep the candida population in check. If your baby has oral thrush and your immune system is disrupted due to stress or illness, there's a possibility that you may develop thrush. For this reason, standard recommendations have been to treat both parent and baby simultaneously to resolve thrush as quickly as possible if there is reason to think that parent or baby will be more susceptible.

Final Thoughts & Key Takeaway

I've found working with the parents I see in my practice, however, that even in diagnostically confirmed cases of thrush (via oral culture), the nipple pain a parent is experiencing is generally due to some other cause. Once we address that, parents feel better without any treatment, natural or otherwise!

If you suspect your baby has thrush & it’s affecting your baby’s ability or willingness to eat, or you’ve not noticed an improvement trying to manage it at home, please schedule a visit. Assessing & managing oral thrush is something we can do virtually, or if you’re local, I am happy to see you in our office, located near Berkeley Ca.

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Laura Howells (she/her) is an IBCLC and postpartum doula who works with clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been happily supporting growing families during pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and the first years since 2009.

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