Baby Bad Breath: Help! It Stinks! What Do I Do?

Tiny baby creatures, as in human infants, are known to create giant stinks. Figuratively, the tantrum for … what, exactly? – and literally: baby poop reeks! Other things can really smell bad too, including your sweet baby’s breath.

What the heck is that all about? Are they sneaking out for smokes and coffee?

Stinky breath in a baby can have many absolutely normal causes which you don’t need to worry about one bit; we certainly hope coffee and cigarettes aren’t among them, though!

Why Does My Baby’s Breath Stink?

The following is a list of some of the most common reasons that could be causing your little one to have stinky breath.


Sometimes it’s as simple as what they’ve ingested.

If they’re nursing and mom had a garlicky burrito last night, well, you’re going to wake up and re-smell the salsa.

For some babies, brassicas bring out the brash breath. And for many, strangely, bananas will make their kisses that much less sweet.

This is just a waiting game as the foods pass through them (and you get to appreciate them again at the other end).

You can also try a process of elimination for triggers, taking the potential baddies out of rotation for a while to see if there’s any change.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “A common cause of mouth odor in infants who are still exclusively breast or bottle feeding is build up of milk on the tongue.

It can often look like a white coating on the tongue, mimicking oral thrush.

When I see patients with this, I recommend that the parents wipe down the tongue with a moist wash cloth at the end of the day.

This reduces the “old milk” accumulation.”


Speaking of appreciating – or not appreciating – food again, vomit is an obvious offender. If you’ve got a lil’ puker, well, you know why you don’t want to dive in for a smooch.

Dry Mouth

Another simple-as-can-be cause is one we tend to experience ourselves: a dry mouth.


If the culprit is mouth-breathing due to a stuffed up nose, keep the nasal passages free of congestion so your little one can breathe as clearly as possible.

Then a little sip of something fresh and clean might be the answer. Make sure your baby is well hydrated at all times, for any number of reasons, not just for sparkling breath.


As in many odorific cases, bacteria can be the culprits.

They can grow on food still lingering in the mouth; they can be spread from toys and blankets; they might be lurking around new teeth, or they could be building around a foreign object (a toy piece, a stone) tucked away in those chubby cheeks.

In this case, it’s a simple clean-up matter.

If baby is still a little gummer, just take a soft cloth and wet it with warm water, then run it gently around their mouth, along all of the gum lines, inside the cheeks, and under the tongue.

Explore gently for anything that doesn’t belong. Do this after every feeding and before bedtime.

And if the little one has sprouted little teeth, do that same wipe and follow it with a gentle, age-appropriate tooth brushing.

Under no circumstances should you use traditional mouthwash, or any other chemical for that matter. Never put anything in your baby’s mouth that you wouldn’t put in their bowl (or their digestive system if they’re not eating food yet).

Do not use fluoride toothpaste, or any adult toothpaste – these can be very toxic to babies Your little one’s teeth should only be brushed with baby-safe toothpaste specifically designed to meet their needs.

Give all the favored toys, blankets and pacifiers they put in their mouths several times a day a thorough cleaning with an appropriate, non-toxic and baby-safe cleanser.

Keeping all of baby’s playthings clean is wise practice in general, of course – not just for purposes of keeping bad breath at bay.


Another simple cause for mung-mouth is teething. Again, food will catch and bacteria will grow around the new little nubs of tooth.

This is an opportunity to teach your child proper oral hygiene, even though it may seem too soon. Just use a gentle washcloth or age-appropriate toothbrush to gently clean all of the gum and tooth surfaces.

Dental Problems

It could be something as simple as a dental problem causing your little one’s stinky breath.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s no correlation between developing dental problems and how many teeth a baby has.

Even if there’s only a few teeth for them to show, that’s enough for conditions such as tooth decay to occur and lead to stinky breath.


Sometimes it has to do with medication your baby is taking at the time, or medication you’re taking that makes its way into their system through your breast milk.

Some medications break down in the body in certain ways and cause bad breath – it’s just a harmless side effect you’ll have to put up with at times.

Other More Serious Causes Of Bad Baby Breath

If none of these simple actions has eliminated the nastiness, it’s possible you have a medical issue on your hands. These potentialities range from the simple and slightly comic, to more complex conditions.

Foreign Object

A foreign object in a baby’s nose can cause their breath to smell nasty – or can release a foul odor of its own if it’s, for example, a decomposing pea.

Babies are ever so famous for putting objects where they don’t belong – all part of them exploring the world around them and figuring out what they can do and what they can’t do – so be prepared to witness very weird stuff going on.

A little bit funny, and a little bit scary at the same time, right?

Can you see anything in there that doesn’t belong? Is there an unpleasant-smelling discharge coming from only one nostril?

If you suspect this is a possibility, contact your family doctor straight away. If not treated promptly, the object could create an infection, or be inhaled and become a potential choking hazard.

Medical Conditions

Other reasons to call on your medical team?

Bad breath could be an indicator of a sinus infection, tonsillitis, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Yuck to all.

Very rarely, halitosis can be a symptom of medical conditions such as diabetes, or a urinary or kidney condition. You’re not worrying about this yet, though, at least not before ruling out all of the other less-serious possibilities first.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Sinus infections are rare under the age of 5 years old, and are often not seen until 7 years of age.

Although sinuses are present at birth, they are not pneumatized until much later.

Many parents are unaware of this, and often think their infant or child has the same kinds of sinus infections they get as adults.

Here are some studies done to determine the ages aeration of the sinuses occurs:

That said, I agree that infected tonsils (usually viral) and GERD can contribute to bad breath in infants.

What Should I Do About My Baby’s Bad Breath?

Take the time to observe your baby calmly and with great patience as you go through this list of possible causes, ruling out the simplest ones as you go along.

If you’re still concerned after performing some of these basic solutions, consider making arrangements to see a medical professional.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “One other point – in my practice, I often see an association of foul breath with enlarged adenoids and/or sleep apnea.

The congestion and sometimes bacteria trapped in the adenoids gives a chronic post-nasal drip and emits an odor.

This often prompts me to refer these patients to an otolaryngologist.

If you’re looking for an article as a resource in review to everything written in this article so far, feel free to check this resource out:

Wrapping It Up

To wrap this piece up, here’s a shortlist of some of the most important stuff you should keep in mind when it comes to keeping bad breath at bay, and several different practices you should avoid doing.


  • Eliminate stinky foods
  • Maintain excellent oral hygiene by brushing their teeth two times a day, once in the morning and a second time after their last feeding session of the day. Also floss their teeth on a daily basis (and teach them how to do this on their own when they’re old enough) to get rid of any food particles that might get stuck in between their teeth and cause foul smell.
  • Take them for regular checkups at the dentist’s when they’re between the ages of two and three years old to make sure everything’s in good form
  • Keep your baby well hydrated
  • Keep baby’s nasal passages clear
  • Keep toys, blankets and pacifiers clean
  • Check with a medical professional if you suspect a foreign object lodged in a nostril or nasal cavity, or if other symptoms synonymous with illness are present
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash their hands with water and soap, especially if they have a habit of regularly sucking on their fingers


  • Use mouthwash
  • Use fluoride toothpaste, adult toothpaste, or any dental care products that aren’t specifically made for babies
  • Use an adult toothbrush in a baby’s mouth
  • Make a big deal out of your child’s bad breath to the extent they become embarrassed about it.

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Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. After graduating from Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she completed her pediatric residency at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. She is board certified in General Pediatrics.

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