Is Curdled Milk on a Baby's Tongue a sign of Thrush?

Is Curdled Milk on a Baby’s Tongue a sign of Thrush?

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About 2-5% of newborns or infants have thrush in the first year of life. If you wonder whether the curdled milk on a baby’s tongue is a sign of thrush, you may be right. Read on to learn about newborn thrush vs. milk tongue, plus how to get rid of thrush on a baby’s tongue.

As a first-time parent, you get worried about every little change you see in your newborn. If you notice curdled milk on a baby’s tongue, it definitely needs treatment as it is a symptom of thrush in babies.

Thrush on a baby’s tongue resembles curdled milk or cottage cheese on a baby’s tongue. If you have seen curdled milk on a baby’s tongue, don’t jump to a conclusion just yet before you read this article. It could be as simple as milk staining on a baby’s tongue.

So, let’s go ahead and learn the difference between curdled milk on a baby’s tongue (thrush) vs. milk tongue and what you can do to get rid of thrush or milk residue on a baby’s tongue.

What is Thrush in Newborn?

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an over-abundance of yeast called Candida Albicans. This fungus usually lives on our skin and mucous membranes. Most people have Candida as normal flora, but an overgrowth of it can result in an infection. Usually, the immune system and good bacteria in the body control it and stop it from occurring.

Curdled Milk on a Baby's Tongue
Photo credit – James Heilman, MDCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, infants are at more risk of developing thrush as their immune system is still growing. This is why thrush infection is very common in healthy newborns or infants in the first year of their life.

Thrush in an infant can appear as curdled milk on the baby’s tongue, cheeks, the roof of the mouth. Also, thrush in the baby’s mouth can cause yeast diaper rash. Thrush can be uncomfortable and painful for an infant and a breastfeeding mom as they pass infection among each other.

What is Milk Tongue?

Milk tongue in a newborn is often mistaken for thrush by parents. Milk tongue is the white coating of milk or formula on a baby’s tongue.

Almost all newborns have a white coating on their tongue because their primary nutrient source in the first six months of life is breast milk. If your baby is formula-fed, you might notice a thicker white coating on the baby’s tongue.

Milk tongue is often gets cleared as your baby nurses. The tongue’s rubbing against the hard palate on the baby’s mouth removes the milk residue on the baby’s tongue while nursing. However, you may see milk tongue persistently in babies having difficulty nursing because of anatomical reasons such as tongue-tie.

How do you tell if Baby has Thrush or just Milk Tongue?

The difference between thrush vs. milk tongue is noticeable, and with a little bit of investigation, you can differentiate both easily.

Milk tongue is a thin, even white layer too thick white coating on the baby’s tongue. It is usually temporary and limited to the tongue only. Milk tongue can be easily cleaned by gently rubbing your clean fingertip in a circular motion or gently rubbing clean dumped muslin cloth on the baby’s tongue.

Also, some stubborn milk tongue is stiff to get rid of and sometimes, you will also find your baby’s tongue covered in curdled milk if baby spits up frequently due to reflux. These temporary milk residue on baby’s tongue does not mean that baby has thrush.

On the other hand, thrush appears as white patches on the baby’s tongue. In the early stages, it looks like patches of cottage cheese. It resembles a curdled milk coating on the baby’s tongue as it progresses. Unlike the milk tongue, it is not only confined to the tongue, but it can affect the inside of cheeks, lips, and gums (1). Also, babies with mouth thrush can develop yeast diaper rash, another common ailment among newborns.

The curdled milk on the baby’s tongue can be wiped away as well, but often it will leave sore spots that may result in bleeding. It can make it hard for the baby to feed later. So, if you suspect thrush in your baby, steer clear from rubbing the baby’s skin to clear the white patches on the baby’s tongue.

Sometimes, thrush can be hard to get rid of and takes several weeks to eliminate oral thrush.

Another difference between thrush and milk tongue is associated pain and discomfort for babies while feeding. Unlike milk tongue, thrush from baby’s tongue can pass onto mother’s nipple or vice versa.

How do Babies get Thrush?

As mentioned earlier, thrush is caused by a yeast called Candida Albicana, which is a normal part of our body’s flora. Our body’s mature immune system fights off invading harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungus to keep the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ flora in our body in normal circumstances. However, when you are sick or taking antibiotics, this balance is shifted, causing ‘bad’ Candida to overgrow and cause infection.

Infants are prone to catching thrush because of their developing immune systems. Infants might contract this infection in your birth canal during vaginal delivery or develop later if they were treated with antibiotics for other conditions. Infants can also pick-up infection if breastfeeding mothers yeast infection on nipple due to sore nipple, cracked nipple, or wet nipple.

How do you get rid of Thrush or Curdled Milk on a Baby’s Tongue?

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If you suspect that curdled milk on a baby’s tongue is thrush, you need to contact your pediatrician to discuss the treatment plan. They will often prescribe oral anti-fungal (Nystatin or fluconazole) for a mom and a baby.

Both are effective in treating fungal infection. However, Nystatin did not work for my newborn. It only works if given every 90 minutes. Also, it isn’t easy to apply in a baby’s mouth. Another reason to avoid Nystatin is that it contains sugar as an ingredient, encouraging fungal growth.

If you want to avoid using medication in your newborn, here are several natural remedies that can work to get rid of fungal infection in your baby.

Disclaimer: Inform your pediatrician before using natural remedies to treat thrush in babies.

Calendula Officinalis

Calendula Officinalis is a marigold plant used for ages to treat skin conditions (wound healing) and fungus infection (2). This plant’s colorful petals are rich in flavonoids and have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, anti-thrombogenic, anticancer activities in animal studies (3).

Research suggests that calendula may effectively treat diaper rash, vaginal yeast infections, and other skin conditions (4). Juice of Calendula is typically used to treat thrush on mother’s affected nipples. Naturopathic doctors often use it as an alternative to the potentially carcinogenic Gentian Violet. It is applied topically on the baby’s tongue, cheeks, gum, and mother’s nipple.

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Grapefruit Seed Extract is made from the seeds and pulp of grapefruit. It is known for its antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral properties. It is a popular alternative for the treatment of Candida infection. However, there is no direct scientific evidence for its effectiveness in treating thrush.

To use it for thrush, dilute 10 drops of GSE (buy here) in one ounce of water. Apply it to the mother’s nipple and baby’s mouth before every feeding and every hour. It usually takes 2-3 days to clear off the fungus.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is another beneficial and popular natural remedy for thrush treatment. Its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties are attributed to medium-chain fatty acid and lauric acid in coconut oil (5).

Apply cold-pressed coconut oil (buy here) topically to the mother’s nipple and inside the baby’s mouth to clear off the Candida infection.

Include Probiotic in Diet

Probiotics (Lactobacillus) are live bacteria that our body needs to keep fungus under control. Specifically, when babies are given antibiotics to treat other conditions, probiotics are necessary to prevent the overgrowth of fungus.

Yogurt is rich in Lactobacillus. However, babies can’t eat yogurt, so you need to include probiotics drops for babies. Probiotics are beneficial in babies with colic and reflux.

You can also use acidophilus powder to treat thrush in babies. Apply acidophilus powder on your clean finger and let baby suck on it before feeding.

How to Prevent Thrush in Babies?

Newborn thrush is rarely serious. The mild form of thrush can be treated easily and usually takes 2-3 weeks to clear. However, Candida infection is highly contagious, so care should be taken if you or your baby has any thrush symptoms.

To prevent thrush from recurring, you need to be careful about your hygiene practice diet.

It is common practice to eat a healthy diet and drink enough water when fighting any infection. If you or your baby has a thrush infection, you need to cut down on your sugar intake to worsen the symptoms (6). You are also reducing the intake of yeasty food such as bread, nutritional yeast, mushroom as they may aggravate thrush.

Eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water is essential when fighting any infection. Reducing sugar intake and processed food is necessary, as a sugary diet can worsen the thrush symptoms. Some moms have also suggested reducing the intake of yeasty foods such as bread, mushrooms, and nutritional yeast as they may exacerbate thrush. If you decide to make a diet change, you may want to consult a doctor first.

Include fermented foods like plain yogurt, sauerkraut in your daily diet. Also include foods with antibacterial properties like turmeric, garlic, ginger in your regular food preparation. In case you are taking antibiotics to treat other conditions, take probiotics supplements (like this one) to restore the intestine’s normal flora.

Because thrush spreads quickly from wherever it comes in contact with other surfaces, maintaining hygiene is essential in preventing thrush spread.

  • Keep your nipple dry after each feed, use a disposable breast pad, and change often.
  • Wash baby’s clothes or anything that frequently come in contact with Candida at high temperature.
  • Sterilize baby’s bottles, nipples and toys frequently. You can also sterilize them by boiling them for 20 min in water.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after each diaper change. Do not use antibacterial soap as it kills good flora for the hands.
  • Candida can not thrive in an acidic environment, including white vinegar in washing baby’s cloth. You can also rinse your nipple with white vinegar—Mix 1 tsp of white vinegar in 150 ml of water for rinsing your nipple.

FAQs

Should I Wipe Milk off Baby’s Tongue?

There is no harm in wiping milk off your baby’s tongue if you think your baby has a milk stain on the tongue. Dental professionals recommend cleaning the baby’s mouth after each feed. You can use a clean washcloth dipped in warm water or sterile gauze and gently wiped off any milk residue on the baby’s tongue.

However, if you see curdled milk on a baby’s tongue or any sign of thrush, wiping off milk from the baby’s tongue may leave the area red, sore. It may also lead to bleeding and make feeding difficult for a baby.

Can Babies get Thrush from Expressed Milk?

If you are dealing with thrush infection in your baby and you, you should not freeze express milk for later use. Freezing expressed milk does not kill Candida (7). Although, no scientific studies are investigating the risk of feeding described milk to babies when you have a thrush outbreak. But there is still a risk of reinfecting babies with thrush later with the expressed milk that has been frozen during the thrush outbreak.

Can you scrape Thrush off Baby Tongue?

It is better not to scrape thrush off the baby’s tongue. Unlike the milk tongue, which is easy to wipe off with a damp washcloth, rubbing thrush or curdled milk on the baby’s tongue can leave the tongue red, sore, and may lead to bleeding. It can make subsequent feeding difficult and may cause baby to latch and unlatch while feeding.

It is not advisable to scrape thrush off the baby’s tongue. In treating thrush, you need to contact your doctor and discuss the treatment plan.

What happens if Baby Thrush is left Untreated?

If thrush is left untreated in babies, it can cause further complications. It could enter the bloodstream and infect another part of the body, causing systemic Candida infection. Once you have a systemic Candida infection, it can cause serious life-threatening conditions like meningitis. It can also infect the esophagus, eyes, joints, and urinary tract (8)

Conclusion

I hope this post has helped you differentiate thrush (curdled milk on a baby’s tongue) vs. milk tongue. As long as you know the difference and treat thrush with persistence and take hygiene very seriously, you can get rid of thrush in babies in 2-3 weeks. Once you find out your baby has thrush, do contact your pediatrician and discuss the treatment plan. Before you go ahead and use the natural remedies listed above for treating thrush in your babies, speak to your doctor.

Good luck, Mamas!

How about you?

How did you treat thrush in your babies? Do you have natural thrush remedies that worked for you? Please let us know in the comment below.

Reference

  1. Mohrbacher, N., Stock, J., & La Leche League International. (2003). The breastfeeding answer book. Schaumburg, Ill: La Leche League International
  2. Jahdi, F. et. al. The impact of calendula ointment on caesarean wound healing: A randomized control clinical trial. J Family Med Prim Care. 2018 Sep-Oct; 7(5): 893–897. DOI: 4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_121_17
  3. Buzzi, M. et. al. Therapeutic effectiveness of Calendula officinalis. J Wound Care.2016 Dec 2;25(12):732-739.
  4. Mahmoudi, M, et. al. Comparing the effects of Bentonite & Calendula on the improvement of infantile diaper dermatitis. A randomized controlled trial. Indian J Med Res. 2015 Dec; 142(6): 742–746. DOI: 10.4103/0971-5916.174567
  5. Shino B, Peedikayil FC, Jaiprakash SR, Ahmed Bijapur G, Kottayi S, Jose D. Comparison of Antimicrobial Activity of Chlorhexidine, Coconut Oil, Probiotics, and Ketoconazole on Candida albicans Isolated in Children with Early Childhood Caries: An In Vitro Study. Scientifica (Cairo). 2016;2016:7061587. doi: 10.1155/2016/7061587. Epub 2016 Mar 14. PMID: 27051559; PMCID: PMC4808662.
  6. Shino B, Peedikayil FC, Jaiprakash SR, Ahmed Bijapur G, Kottayi S, Jose D. Comparison of Antimicrobial Activity of Chlorhexidine, Coconut Oil, Probiotics, and Ketoconazole on Candida albicans Isolated in Children with Early Childhood Caries: An In Vitro Study. Scientifica (Cairo). 2016;2016:7061587. doi: 10.1155/2016/7061587. Epub 2016 Mar 14. PMID: 27051559; PMCID: PMC4808662.
  7. Rosa C, et al. Yeasts from human milk collected in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rev Microbiol 1990;21(4):361-63.
  8. Bongomin F, Gago S, Oladele RO, Denning DW. Global and Multi-National Prevalence of Fungal Diseases-Estimate PrecisionJ Fungi (Basel). 2017;3(4):57. Published 2017 Oct 18. doi:10.3390/jof3040057

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