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Oral Thrush in Babies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

As the mother of a young baby, we know you're focused on your family's health. You may have even become an oral hygiene aficionado already, wiping your baby's gums after every feeding and making sure they don't take a bottle of anything but water to bed. But even with the most rigorous oral care routine, there are still millions of naturally occurring organisms living in our mouths. For most of us, a healthy immune system keeps them in check. However, one fungal organism that can easily take over is Candida albicans, better known as thrush.

Babies are especially susceptible to this overgrowth of yeast because of their developing immune systems. In infancy, it can even pass back and forth between babies and their mothers through breastfeeding. If you think your baby and you may have thrush, it's helpful to understand the symptoms, risk factors, preventive tips, and treatment, so before you know it, you're on your way to a speedy recovery!

Symptoms of Oral Thrush in Babies and Mothers

There's a range of symptoms your baby may experience that can alert you to a potential bout of oral thrush. While this is a common infection in babies, it can be uncomfortable. So it's helpful to look for the following symptoms of thrush in your baby and be able to seek treatment if needed:

  • Creamy white lesions or red, irritated lesions on the inside of their mouth.
  • Wiping the sores may result in bleeding.
  • Trouble sucking or feeding.
  • Unusual irritability and fussiness.
  • Difficulty or refusal to nurse.
  • A diaper rash that doesn't go away with commonly suggested ointments.
  • Gas due to excessive yeast in their gastrointestinal tract.

As a mother, you can have the following symptoms of thrush:

  • Cracked, itchy, or burning nipples.
  • Flaky or shiny skin on your areolas, the darker, circular area around the nipple.
  • A sharp shooting pain deep in your breast when trying to nurse.

Risk Factors for Oral Thrush

You take good care of your child's mouth and follow all of your doctor's advice, so you may be wondering, what causes thrush in babies? There are several common risk factors for a baby and mother to pass thrush to each other:

  • As mentioned above, a baby's immune system is not fully developed and cannot fight off organisms like a fully developed immune system, making them more susceptible to thrush.
  • If you had a vaginal yeast infection while pregnant or during delivery, the infection could pass to your baby in the form of thrush.
  • Cross-infection may occur if you or your baby are on prednisone, inhaled corticosteroids, or antibiotics.
  • If someone else in your home has a candida infection, loose hygiene practices can let thrush spread more quickly, as noted by La Leche League.

Thrush flourishes in warm areas, making sense that it would easily pass between a baby's mouth and their mother's breast. La Leche also notes that a few other practices and health conditions can increase you and your baby's chances of developing thrush. Your baby may be more at risk of oral thrush if they use a pacifier a lot. And if you have anemia or diabetes, or a diet that includes an excessive amount of sweets, you may have a higher risk of contracting a yeast infection.

Treating Oral Thrush

Perhaps you're experiencing pain while breastfeeding, or you've noticed a creamy, white rash inside your baby's mouth. We know you're ready to get this issue resolved quickly! How to treat oral thrush in babies isn't complicated; what's most important is to treat both your thrush and your baby's at the same time. It makes sense for you and your baby to have simultaneous treatment because of how quickly thrush can pass between you while breastfeeding.

We recommend that you see a doctor to discuss the best treatment course for you and your baby. Oral thrush can go away on its own in a few days, so your baby may not even need treatment. If they do need treatment, the good news is that since most treatment is compatible with nursing, you won't have to stop breastfeeding during this time.

Antifungal medication is the most common form of treatment for thrush. Your doctor can prescribe nystatin oral drops for your baby, while a cream or an oral version of the medication will work for your breasts. Once on a treatment plan, symptoms should improve within four or five days, as noted by Seattle Children's Hospital.

Preventing Reinfection

Besides treating both you and your baby at the same time, the following hygiene protocols may reduce the chances of a reoccurring thrush infection:

  • Clean pacifiers and toys that your baby puts in their mouth.
  • Replace pacifiers and bottle nipples after one week, as noted by La Leche.
  • Boil breast pump parts that come in contact with breast milk each day during treatment, and throw away damp breast pads.
  • To kill the yeast on clothing, wash in warm water with a cup of vinegar.
  • Frequently wash your hands and your baby's hands, especially after diaper changes and using the bathroom.
  • While undergoing treatment, dry hands with paper towels and discard them after each use.
  • Avoid diaper wipes if your baby has a diaper rash. Instead, use a washcloth and water.
  • Clean and dry your breast after each feeding with a cotton ball or clean cloth. Your doctor can provide advice on balms and ointments that are safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • Make dietary changes. Consider yogurt that contains acidophilus. It's a probiotic that can guard against thrush. And decrease your intake of sugar or yeast-based foods, which contribute to the overproduction of candida.

As the mother of a newborn, we know that there's so much you're learning to adapt to. So finding out that you and your baby have thrush is no fun. Even though oral thrush is a common infection for many babies, especially those breastfeeding, we know you want to provide your baby comfort and treatment as soon as possible. By following a strict hygiene regimen and contacting your doctor at the first hint of thrush, nursing can still be an enjoyable bonding experience for both you and your baby, and you'll have thrush under control in no time.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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