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If you haven’t already come to the conclusion that being in charge of a tiny human’s care is nerve-wracking, well, you soon will. And it might be the moment you discover strange white patches in your baby’s mouth. Welcome to yet another parenting milestone you’d probably rather not experience: thrush in babies.
Has your little one been extra fussy during feedings? If so, and those tell-tale thick white patches start to pop up, chances are your little love bug has this common condition. The good news? It’s typically harmless and totally treatable. The not-so-good news? Thrush can be pretty uncomfortable for babies, so you’ll definitely want to get your little on the fast track to feeling better.
If you are worried, you should know that you’re not alone in this one. According to the most recent search data available, the topic of thrush in babies is searched for nearly 60,500 times per month. That should offer some comfort in how common thrush is. Here’s the rundown on the condition and what you can do to help your baby get over it.
What is thrush?
Thrush is a common fungal infection of the mouth, typically afflicting newborns and infants. The culprit? A white yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans.
What causes thrush in babies?
It’s actually normal to have yeast organisms on your body — Candida, in particular, can thrive without giving you any trouble. A healthy immune system shouldn’t have any problems keeping Candida in check. However, sometimes it gets a little squirrelly (especially in those with compromised or not fully developed immune systems) and grows out of control. That Candida overgrowth can effectively turn to thrush in little ones.
Sometimes, the yeast develops on a nursing mother’s nipples or on the nipples of bottles and/or pacifiers that didn’t come clean when rinsed. In this case, the fungal infection can be passed to baby and then turn into thrush.
How do you know if your baby has thrush?
So, you noticed some thick white or yellowish funk in your baby’s mouth, huh? Maybe along their gums, tongue, and along the sides and roof of their mouth, too? It might remind you of cottage cheese curds, but they don’t wash away. Unfortunately, your poor little thing probably has thrush.
Other signs and symptoms of thrush to look out for include detaching at the breast or refusing the breast (due to soreness), poor weight gain, cracked lips, a whitish sheen to their saliva, a diaper rash (the fungus can be excreted and cause a yeast diaper rash), and clicking sounds during feeding. Babies with thrush might also produce more saliva while feeding. Be careful if wiping away as it may cause bleeding and additional discomfort for the baby.
Babies with thrush can also develop a yeast diaper rash that further exacerbates the discomfort. You may be able to spot tell tale signs of yeast diaper rash if your baby is showing signs of diarrhea and frequent stools, a dark red rash with slightly raised skin, pimples and sores filled with pus, scaly or flaky skin in patches, and red bumps along the border. It goes without saying you should consult with a doctor right away.
Can you still breastfeed with thrush?
Probably. But there are a few precautions you’ll likely have to take and inherent risks involved. As you may have guessed, it’s possible for baby to pass thrush to you during breastfeeding if they have the infection. You would then have what is usually referred to as “nipple thrush.” Word to the wise? Nipple thrush may make breastfeeding deeply uncomfortable for you.
Likewise, you can also pass thrush to your little one if you have it. So, if either of you is diagnosed with thrush, your doctor might recommend an antifungal cream to apply. This could keep you and baby from passing the infection back and forth. Realistically, your doctor will probably treat you both if one of you shows signs of thrush.
When you aren’t actively breastfeeding, try to keep your breasts dry — candida thrives in warm, moist places. If your baby is still not feeding, make sure to consult with their pediatrician immediately as it may lead to dehydration.
Per La Leche League, symptoms of thrush in nursing moms include:
Burning pain in the nipple
Flaking skin on the nipple or areola
Shiny skin on the nipple or areola
Painful breasts without tender spots or sore lumps
Stabbing pains in the breasts behind the areola
How do you get rid of thrush in babies?
If you’re not a huge fan of giving medication to your little one at this tender stage of life, you may be one of the lucky Mamas who is able to kick your baby’s Candida with natural and oral care. A few ways to do this? Gently wipe the inside of your baby’s cheeks to help physically remove the fungal infection. Giving your baby probiotics may also help to keep bacteria in check, but you would definitely need to consult with their pediatrician before trying this. Naturally, you’re also going to want to be diligent about sterilizing all feeding supplies after every single use. And hey, some cases of thrush simply go away on their own when you follow these steps.
Having said all of that, though, doctors generally prefer to treat thrush with medication. For example, your baby’s pediatrician may prescribe Nystatin, a medication you’ll need to squirt on the inside of baby’s cheeks several times a day for whatever duration your baby’s doctor advises. For babies who’ve developed a diaper rash as a result, their pediatrician may also prescribe a diaper rash cream or suggest you pick up a tube of an over-the-counter variety.
Since thrush can live in baby bottles and nipples it’s imperative you clean and sterilize them in between uses. This will not give the fungus a place to thrive. Sterilize the bottles and nipples by washing them in warm soapy water and dropping them in boiling water to rid it of bacteria. It’s important to sterilize anything baby may put in their mouth, such as teething rings.
Is there anything you can do?
You know the deal, Mama — when baby feels bad, extra snuggles are definitely in order. Aside from consulting with baby’s pediatrician at the first signs of thrush and then following the doctor’s orders, keeping baby as comfortable as possible is just about the best thing you can do for them.