What is a thrush?
Everyone has harmless amounts of yeast (Candida) present on the skin and in the mouth, as well as in the intestinal tract and genital area. Our immune system naturally keeps these germs in check. However, when these organisms overgrow causing an imbalance, an infection can set in. Thrush is a common oral infection which frequently occurs in infants and toddlers. Babies do not have fully formed immune systems yet, so it makes them more susceptible to yeast infections. Thrust usually leads to creamy white or yellow patches appearing in a baby’s mouth, especially on the tongue or on the sides, gums, lips, and it can even spread to the throat.
What causes a thrush?
Newborns can acquire the infection from their mothers, not only while they are still in the uterus, but also during passage through the birth canal during delivery (if the mother has a vaginal yeast infection). Thrush often occurs when the baby has taken antibiotics or the mother is taking antibiotics while breastfeeding. That is because antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the body that keep yeast in check. The infection can be passed between a mother and baby back and forth, unless they are both treated at the same time.
Another cause of thrush can be sucking on a bottle or pacifier for an extended period of time or using unclean bottle nipples and pacifiers. Sometimes it is difficult to single out only one cause of thrush. Some women and babies are simply more susceptible to yeast than others.
Signs and Symptoms
If you notice a white coating on your baby's tongue and nowhere else, then it's probably just milk residue (especially if it can be easily wiped off). However, some of the following symptoms often indicate thrush:
- Redness in the mouth with white or yellow patches on the inside of the lips, the tongue, gums, and inner cheeks.
- Refusing to nurse because of soreness. The white patches mentioned above may be painful and can make feeding uncomfortable if the infection is severe.
- Diaper rash. Babies who have thrush may end up with a yeast infection in the diaper area as well. Yeast passes through the child's digestive system when he eats and ends up in his stool, right next to his warm, damp skin in the diaper, causing a diaper rash. The affected area is red and sensitive, with a distinct and raised red border in some cases.
If you suspect thrush, contact your pediatrician for diagnosis and treatment. Thrush in babies is very common and can easily be treated. It often goes away on its own in a few days, but if the infection doesn't seem to be clearing up, call your pediatrician. He or she may prescribe an antifungal medicine to treat your baby's thrush.
An antibiotic is often prescribed for children, and it is applied on your baby's mouth and tongue several times a day for around ten days. Be sure to give the medicine after nursing so it can stay in your baby's mouth longer. Thrush can also cause a yeast diaper infection. In this case, an antifungal cream is prescribed to use in the diaper area.
If you have a yeast infection on your nipples, your doctor may recommend that you apply antibiotic to your nipples to treat the infection. As mentioned above, if both you and your baby have the infection, you both need to be treated at the same time. Otherwise, you can pass the infection back and forth.
Some of the following steps may help in preventing thrush:
- Because thrush is often triggered by antibiotics, it is important to use these medications only when it is absolutely necessary.
- Be sure to treat your nipples if you have a yeast infection.
- Clean and sterilize pacifiers, bottle nipples and toys that go in baby's mouth.
- To help prevent yeast from causing diaper rash, change diapers frequently and keep the skin as clean and dry as possible.