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It’s just about every parent’s worst nightmare when their child is sick, especially when it is their tiny, helpless baby. With their immature immune systems, babies are highly susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections, including oral thrush.
We want to help put your mind at ease so you know what to look for and how to identify this common fungal outbreak.
What is It?
Oral thrush, medically referred to as oral candidiasis, is simply an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans on the lining of the mouth. This fungus is also commonly referred to as yeast, the same yeast that is found in your body that causes vaginal yeast infections in women.
What Causes Oral Thrush?
The type of yeast that causes oral thrush and yeast infections is already present in your body. However, this yeast can sometimes get a bit out of control when poor hygiene or weakened immune systems are a factor.
Usually, the “good” bacteria and microorganisms in our bodies keep the “bad” ones under control. Because babies have nearly no established an immune system, there aren’t many of these “good” microorganisms to keep yeast growth in check.
Thrush can also be passed between mother and baby through breastfeeding. It may start in one place and continue traveling back and forth in a vicious cycle between a mother’s nipple and her baby’s mouth if treatment is not sought.
What are the symptoms For Oral Thrush?
Your baby may not show any signs or symptoms of oral thrush at first. It may just be a silent irritant at first, but as the fungus spreads, you may begin to notice that your baby is experiencing discomfort or pain while feeding.
It starts as creamy white lesions on the lining of the mouth, tongue, and sometimes gums or tonsils. Cases found in adults – which are rare – have also been characterized by a slightly cottony feeling in the mouth, but of course, your baby can’t describe that to you.
These lesions are slightly raised with a cottage cheese sort of look to them. If you rub or scrape them, they may start to bleed slightly.
As the fungus spreads, you may start to notice your baby getting fussy at feeding time due to an increase in pain and irritation. There may be redness inside the mouth or around the lips as well as cracked skin. Burning and soreness can also make swallowing difficult.
How Long Does It Take To Get Rid Of Oral Thrush?
Without treatment, oral thrush is very difficult – if not impossible – to get rid of. Oftentimes, your pediatrician (or OB/GYN if you have nipple thrush) will prescribe an antifungal cream to apply to the affected area. If instructions are followed closely, thrush will take about 14 days to clear.
Untreated or prolonged exposure can result in the fungus spreading to other areas. Babies can experience diaper rash caused by yeast due to oral thrush being introduced into their stool. In these cases, a diaper cream will also be necessary for treatment.
How To Prevent Oral Thrush in Babies?
Since you can’t really do anything to build up your baby’s immune system, there are some cases of oral thrush that just can’t be prevented. However, there are certain precautions you can take that may cut down on the risk.
Hygiene is of the utmost importance when it comes to the prevention of fungal growth.
- Brush your infant’s gums
Start oral hygiene and care early with your baby. Brush their gums with a soft toothbrush after eating. Not only can this help prevent oral thrush but it can also help your baby get used to brushing their teeth from an early age.
- Wash toys and pacifiers
Sterilize toys, pacifiers, bottle nipples, breast pump and anything else that comes in contact with your baby’s mouth if they happen to drop on the floor. Bottle nipples should be sterilized after each use as well.
- Air-dry your nipples and change breast pads often
Ensure that your breasts and nipples are clean before each breastfeeding session. Only touch your breasts and your baby’s mouth with clean hands. These things can help to prevent growth on your nipples that can pass to your baby.
You should also dry your nipples after each feeding as yeast thrives in moist, dark environments.
When to See a Doctor
Any sort of abnormality with your baby’s physical condition or behavior should be addressed by your pediatrician as soon as possible. This includes any white spots you may see in your baby’s mouth or unusual feeding behaviors such as fussing and pulling away.
If your baby has thrush and it is not addressed, you may put them at risk for malnutrition. When your baby is experiencing pain while eating, they most likely aren’t taking in the amount of food they need to help them grow properly. Talk to your pediatrician if you notice your baby losing weight.
Abnormalities with your nipples should also be addressed by a professional (your OB/GYN). Nipple thrush is often characterized by red, sensitive, cracked, or itchy nipples. You may also notice that they are slightly darker in color or shiny.
Sometimes you may experience pain during or after feeding around the nipple area or sharp stabbing pains deep within the breast. If you notice any of these things, seek medical attention.
Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor. While I have meticulously researched this topic, these tips are not intended to replace professional medical advice. Seek counsel from your pediatrician or OB/GYN if you have any questions about candidiasis.
Oral thrush may be a common occurrence in young babies, but that doesn’t mean it is something that should be ignored. Proper medical treatment needs to be administered to help heal and clear the infection. Thankfully, the symptoms are usually clear and easy to catch so you can get your little one feeling better as soon as possible.
Have you ever experienced oral thrush with your baby? How did you take care of it?