Oral Thrush in Babies: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Do you find your newborn being restless or uncomfortable when you feed him? If yes, then you need to take a closer look in his mouth. If white patches appear on the tongue, or anywhere else in the mouth or throat, it could mean that he is dealing with a common oral infection called oral thrush. There’s no need to worry. By understanding what oral thrush in a newborn baby looks like, along with the causes and oral thrush treatment for newborn, you can easily safeguard your little one’s health.

So, read on to discover more about oral thrush in newborns along with the cause, symptoms and treatment options.

What Is Oral Thrush in Newborns?

Oral thrush also known as oral candidiasis or simply thrush, is a result of a yeast infection that develops in the mouth. It can typically affect anyone at any age. But it’s mostly common in newborns and small babies, especially those who are under six months old.

Thrush is caused by a fungus which is a kind of yeast called ‘Candida’ that can live anywhere on the body, including in the mouth and digestive tract. It’s common for people to carry this yeast, and it doesn’t usually cause any problems. When this fungus grows out of control, it leads to thrush which can cause white or yellowish bumps on the inner cheeks and tongue. This can be quite uncomfortable or painful for your little one, especially when feeding.

Thrush may also be transferred from your baby’s mouth to your nipples if you breastfeed, which can cause you pain or discomfort, particularly when your baby is feeding.

What Causes Oral Thrush in Babies?

There’s a good chance that your baby has already come into contact with the candida fungus. For example, it can be transferred in saliva through hand-to-mouth contact, or your baby might have picked it up while in the birth canal if you gave birth vaginally.

Most of the time, the presence of candida isn’t a problem, as it’s kept in check by your baby’s immune system and ‘good bacteria’.

But if your baby is newborn or still very young, his or her immune system isn’t fully developed yet. This ‘weaker’ immune system can also result in an overgrowth of candida, causing oral thrush in your baby.

If your baby is being given antibiotics for an infection, this might also increase the risk of thrush because antibiotics — which are great at fighting bacterial infections — can also kill off some of those ‘good bacteria’ at the same time. This means your baby’s natural defenses against the candida are down, allowing the fungus to grow out of hand.

Symptoms of Oral Thrush in Babies

If you suspect your baby has an oral thrush, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and treatment. Here are some signs and symptoms of oral thrush to watch out for:

  • Difficulties with feeding. One of the first possible signs of oral thrush that you notice could be that your baby isn’t feeding as well as usual or seems to be finding it uncomfortable or painful.

  • White patches. These spots can appear on your baby’s tongue, lips, gums, inside the cheeks or the roof of the mouth. Try wiping them gently away — if they can’t be removed this way, your child might have oral thrush. Because these patches aren’t always obvious from the outside, it’s a good idea to check your baby’s mouth from time to time.

  • Cracked skin at the corners of the mouth.

  • Persistent nappy rash. As the fungus is swallowed and passed out of your baby’s system, it can cause a nappy rash around your baby’s bottom. If your little one has a sore bum that doesn’t seem to want to clear up, look for other symptoms of thrush or talk to your doctor.

  • Tell-tale signs on your own body. If you’re breastfeeding and have itchy, cracked or sore nipples, or intense shooting pains in the nipples or breasts, these symptoms could indicate that you have thrush. If you’re breastfeeding and your baby has oral thrush, the thrush can be passed between your infant’s mouth and your nipples.

How to Treat Oral Thrush In A Newborn Baby

The best way to treat oral thrush in newborns is by consulting with the pediatrician and getting a diagnosis done. Your doctor will be able to explain the newborn thrush treatment options better.

Thrush occasionally starts going away by itself in the first few weeks. But if it persists, your doctor will prescribe an antifungal treatment. Usually, the symptoms start to get better within two or three days of treatment, although it will take a bit longer for the infection to clear up completely.

You should check in with your doctor again if the symptoms haven’t improved even after seven days.

How to Prevent Oral Thrush in Your Baby

These are some of the steps you can take to help prevent your baby from developing oral thrush:

  • Wash your baby’s hands frequently, especially if your child sucks his or her thumb or fingers. Wash your own hands frequently too.

  • Regularly sterilise dummies, teething rings, the nipples of feeding bottles and anything else that goes in your baby’s mouth, to prevent a build-up of the candida yeast that can cause oral thrush

  • Use a hot wash cycle for washing towels or clothing – especially breastfeeding bras – to kill off any yeast that they might have been in contact with

  • If you use a breast pump, make sure all the parts that come into contact with your breasts or breast milk are sterilised after every use

  • Keep your breasts dry and free of potential sources of yeast by changing any disposable breast pads frequently and wearing a clean bra every day

Preventing Reinfection

Thrush is highly infectious. The Candida fungus that causes it is easily transmitted, so it can spread from you to your baby and back again via your nipples, and even to and from other members of the family if you share bedding, cups or utensils.

This means Oral thrush in babies can be hard to get rid of, especially if you’re breastfeeding, but there’s a lot you can do to help prevent reinfection.

First of all, it’s important to ensure that both you and your baby (and anyone else who has it in your household) are treated at the same time.

It also makes sense to take all the preventive measures above while treating an existing case of thrush.

You may need to throw away any expressed breast milk that you have in storage if there’s a chance that it’s been contaminated with the yeast.

Breastfeeding and Thrush

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, thrush can be a real pain — often literally — for you, as well as for your baby.

It’s important to get prompt treatment, so see your doctor as soon as you can. Keep in mind that the symptoms of thrush may not clear up straight away.

In the meantime, experts advise that you keep on breastfeeding if you can. If you cut down on breastfeeding and make up the difference with formula, this can reduce your breast milk supply.

If it’s just too painful to breastfeed, you can still express your breast milk and give it to your little one as long as you don’t store or freeze any breast milk that you express while the thrush is being treated.

Check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter pain relief medicine.

Why It Might Not Be Thrush

Not all breast pain or nipple soreness is caused by thrush. If you experience sharp pains in your breast during or after feeds and severe pains in the nipple, try changing your baby’s breastfeeding position or getting him or her to latch on again. This might be all that’s needed to help alleviate the pain you’re feeling. Another cause of breast pain can be a bacterial infection called mastitis. These conditions are commonly confused with thrush, so it’s always best to check with your doctor, who will be able to find the underlying cause of your discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctors usually prescribe antifungal medication to treat oral thrush in babies. If you or anyone else in the family has thrush, you each must get treated at the same time to stop the infection from re-infecting your baby.

The Bottom line

Dealing with oral thrush in a newborn is one of those curveballs that you might face in your parenthood. It surely can seem to be a little worrisome. But you need to keep in mind that with the right treatment prescribed by your doctor it’ll clear up in due course. In the end, it’s all about how soon you start the treatment. So, let go of your worry, as in no time your little one will be back to enjoying his feeds minus any discomfort.

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