What is Thrush?
Thrush (or candida) is a harmless yeast infection that is most common in babies 2 months and younger, but it can affect older babies as well. It’s most identifiable symptom are the white (or sometimes gray) legions found inside the mouth, which often resemble cottage cheese or curdled milk. What’s more, thrush can travel through the gastrointestinal system and cause yeast-induced diaper rash—a literal pain in the rear!
How Did My Baby Get Thrush?
Chances are she encountered the fungus during her trip down the birth canal. You see, everyone has yeast in their bodies—it helps with food digestion—but too much yeast can lead to an infection. Excessive yeast production is most common in pregnant woman (up to 20 percent of pregnant women experience some form of yeast infection) because their hormones are in flux, which sometimes tricks the body into thinking it needs to generate more yeast. Couple this with the fact that newborns have an exceptionally weak immune system, and you can see why thrush is not uncommon among young babies.
Thrush can also appear if your baby is taking antibiotics, because along with eliminating harmful bacteria, antibiotics can also kill the “good” bacteria that help your child battle germs. You can help restore your baby’s defenses by giving her cultured yogurt, which contains live “beneficial” bacteria. (Note: Only feed yogurt to babies older than 4 months who have been introduced to solid foods; younger babies may have trouble digesting yogurt.)
Thrush is very contagious and can be passed from child to mother (and vice versa) during breastfeeding. Because yeast can live on the skin, nursing mothers may want to consider applying topical anti-yeast creams (like Lotrimin AF or Monistat) to their nipples. If you bottle-feed, be sure to sterilize the artificial nipple before mealtime. This goes for pacifiers, too.
My Baby Has Thrush, Now What?
In most cases, thrush will begin to clear up on its own. Still, you should contact your pediatrician, who may prescribe an oral fungal cream (like Nystatin). Using a gauze-wrapped finger or enclosed applicator, swab the cream across your child’s infected areas several times a day, usually for 10 days. Because thrush can linger, even after all visible symptoms disappear, it’s important to continue treatment until you have completed the prescribed course. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to apply an anti-fungal cream to your nipples, so your baby doesn’t pass the infection to you when nursing.
Can Thrush Harm My Baby?
Not directly. Your greatest concern with thrush is dehydration. Oftentimes the white lesions in your baby’s mouth make sucking and swallowing both difficult and painful. As a result, your baby may become fussy and refuse to feed. If this is the case, ask your doctor about reducing the discomfort with age-appropriate doses of acetaminophen. By keeping your baby well fed and using the oral fungal cream correctly, your child’s thrush should clear up completely within a month.
If symptoms persist or your baby runs a fever (over 100° F), call your pediatrician immediately—no matter what time it is. This could be the sign of a serious illness that requires immediate medical attention.
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