Feeding your baby is supposed to be such a peaceful, bonding moment between the two of you. It’s when you slow down, relax, and stare into your little one’s eyes while they fill their tummies and stare back at you with love and admiration.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But if your baby is fussing instead of eating, turning their mouth away from the nipple instead of toward it, and seems to have white patches on their tongue, you may be dealing with thrush. And while thrush in babies can be common and rarely dangerous, it’s definitely annoying. Especially for your little one who may no longer enjoy eating. Ugh. Here’s how to deal with oral thrush in your baby’s mouth and how to treat this somewhat common condition.
What is Thrush in Babies?
Thrush is a very common type of yeast infection caused by candida albicanis, a fungus that can invade the mouth and genital region. While this fungus is often present throughout the body without issue, it’s when it grows out of control that you might start to notice white patches in your baby’s mouth, tongue, cheeks, or even lips.
These patches can also appear around your little one’s genital area and sometimes around your nipples if you’re breastfeeding (which, yes, is just as uncomfortable for you as it is for them). The tell-tale symptoms thrush in babies are:
- White patches in or around the mouth.
- The patches can’t be wiped off.
- May coat your baby’s tongue.
- Your baby appears fussy or doesn’t want to eat.
Thrush in babies most often appears in their mouth. And when there is thrush in baby’s mouth, it can be uncomfortable for them. So your baby may express their discomfort by crying and fussing, especially during feeding times.
What Causes Oral Thrush in Babies?
We’ve already established that thrush in your baby’s mouth is a type of yeast infection, but you’re probably wondering: how exactly did your little one get a yeast infection to begin with? Well, here’s the thing: babies typically pick up that lovely candida albicanis fungus by coming into contact with it on their way out of the birth canal. That’s right—the yeast that is causing your baby oral discomfort now is the same yeast that has likely caused you vaginal discomfort in the past.
However, on its own, candida albicanis typically coexists just fine with other microorganisms in the body, so just coming into contact with it shouldn’t cause a yeast infection. It’s only when the body’s ecosystem gets somehow unbalanced that the overgrowth can occur. In babies, there are a few different ways this can happen:
- Taking antibiotics—if either you or your baby have to take antibiotics (such as if you get mastitis), it could cause an imbalance and lead to thrush in your little one.
- Prolonged sucking—in babies, this is the most common cause of thrush, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. If your baby is sucking for prolonged periods of time, either at the breast, bottle, or on a pacifier, it might irritate the lining of the mouth and lead to thrush.
Thrush usually shows up in babies during their first months of life, which researchers think may be caused by the fact that they don’t have well-developed immune systems yet. They could come into contact with candida albicanis that your body was already fighting off, but not be able to fight it off themselves.
Regardless of how your baby developed thrush, it’s important to remember how common this type of infection is. These things just happen sometimes and they are often difficult to avoid. It doesn’t make you a bad mom if your baby develops thrush! It’s a very common condition and fortunately, also very treatable.
Symptoms of Thrush in Babies
Thrush in babies tends to be pretty easy for a doctor to diagnose. The tell-tale symptoms of oral thrush include:
- White patches or sores inside the mouth
- Cracked corners of the mouth
- Fussiness during feeding
Keep in mind, your baby may have some whiteness in their mouths immediately after feeding due to the coat of milk that sometimes lingers. But if you are still noticing white patches an hour after feeding, you are most likely dealing with thrush.
It’s also important to remember that thrush can appear places other than the mouth as well. If you notice a rash with red dots in the diaper area, your baby may have thrush there.
Then there are your nipples. If you’ve got thrush, you’ll likely experience:
- Shore, burning nipples
- Itchy, flaky, or crusty skin around the nipples
- Pink, shiny nipple skin
- Shooting breast pain during or after feeding
If you have thrush, your baby probably does as well.
How to Treat Thrush in Babies
There are a few different options for treating thrush in babies, but it’s a good idea for you and your baby to both seek treatment in order to avoid continually passing the yeast back and forth.
Your baby’s pediatrician will likely prescribe an antifungal medication, to be applied topically inside their mouth and on their tongue. Your doctor will probably give you another antifungal cream to be applied directly to your nipples. Occasionally these treatments don’t work, and an oral medication may be prescribed to both you and your baby to clear up the presence of yeast.
You’ll find a lot of home remedies for thrush online, and some even have research to back up their efficacy (for instance, coconut oil has shown promise in treating fungal infections). These treatments can be relatively harmless for you to try yourself (though, they may work better was complimentary treatments alongside your doctor’s recommendations). But for young babies, especially, you should always exercise caution with anything you are giving them—when in doubt, it’s best to consult with their doctor first.
Preventing Thrush in the Future
There is often very little you can do to prevent the initial occurrence of thrush. Especially if your baby comes into contact with candida during labor—there’s no preventing that or avoiding it.
But once thrush has made an appearance, there are things you can do to prevent future infections post-treatment.
- Ensure both you and your baby are treated so that you don’t continue to pass the infection back and forth. And be sure to give your baby any medication that is prescribed fully (no stopping early!).
- Thoroughly sterilize all your baby’s toys, pacifiers, bottles, and anything else they may put in their mouths.
- Wash all the clothing (including bras) that may have come into contact with the yeast—on the hot wash cycle, if possible.
- Regularly clean your breast pump parts in order to prevent yeast overgrowth.
- Dry your breasts after feedings and before covering yourself back up to prevent the accumulation of moisture and bacteria.
- Refrigerate pumped milk until right before feeding.
- Change your nursing pads whenever they get wet.
- Choose cotton nursing bras and clothing that don’t trap moisture.
If your baby is having any trouble breastfeeding, it’s also a good idea to consult a lactation consultant to ensure that there are no latch issues contributing to the yeast infection. And be sure to avoid putting your baby to sleep with a bottle in their crib so they aren’t hanging out with excess breast milk or formula in their mouth.
Remember, thrush is extremely common and not generally dangerous—if you or your baby develops this pesky infection, get treated and go easy on yourself. Being a parent to a newborn is tough enough without blaming yourself for things that are generally out of your control. Your little one will be just fine, and so will you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my baby has thrush?
The tell-tale signs of thrush are white patches in your baby’s mouth, along with fussiness at feeding times.
How do you get rid of thrush in babies?
What causes oral thrush in babies?
Oral thrush in babies is just a yeast infection in the mouth. It can be caused by a few different factors, such as antibiotics or prolonged sucking.
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