Oral Thrush in Babies is mostly harmless but can cause some discomfort.Learn all about what causes oral thrush,how to prevent it & keep baby’s tongue clean.
Breastfeeding is recommended by experts and organizations across the world for several reasons, including benefits for both mother and child. However, certain illnesses in the mother or baby can come in the way of a smooth breastfeeding journey. One such illness is oral thrush in babies.
What is Oral Thrush?
Oral thrush or oral candidiasis is a yeast infection caused by the fungus called Candida albicans. While thrush can affect any person, it is common among infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems. Oral thrush is considered to be the most common oral fungal infection in babies, affecting 1 in 20 babies worldwide.
Symptoms of oral thrush are cracked skin around the corners of the mouth and white patches on the tongue, lips or inside the cheeks. These white patches look like curd or cottage cheese, but can’t be wiped away even if you try. If you try too hard, the area ends up becoming red and inflamed.
For many babies, oral thrush doesn’t cause much discomfort. But for some, it can cause irritation and soreness when sucking along with drooling. This can cause baby to feed poorly, resulting in weight loss. If the baby appears fussy or keeps detaching from the breast, it’s a sign that the thrush is painful. In some babies, oral thrush is accompanied by diaper rash.
Causes of Oral Thrush in Babies
Candida occurs naturally in our mouths and digestive tracts, and is kept under control by a strong immune system and good bacteria. When this control is lost, Candida overgrows and causes an infection. This can happen due to:
- An under-developed immune system, which makes premature babies more vulnerable
- A course of antibiotics which destroys the good bacteria
- Use of steroid medicines
- Vaginal births, when the babies pick up the Candida that occurs naturally in the vagina
- Nipple thrush in the mother
Oral thrush is not contagious from person to person, except between a breastfeeding mother and baby. A mother who has nipple thrush can pass on the infection to her baby, and the baby can pass on the oral thrush to the mother via breastfeeding. Symptoms of a nipple thrush infection are:
- Soreness or pain during breastfeeding and after
- Cracked nipples or areolas
- Changes in the appearance of the nipples or areolas
In such cases, both mother and baby will have to be treated, so that they don’t keep passing on the infection to and from each other.
How to Treat Oral Thrush in Babies
In many cases, oral thrush in babies disappears without any treatment in less than two weeks. However, if the symptoms are interfering with breastfeeding or causing discomfort to mother or child, it’s better to take treatment.
For babies, doctors often prescribe an anti-fungal solution or gel, which needs to be applied inside the mouth and on the tongue with an applicator. The application may have to be repeated several times a day.
For mothers, an anti-fungal ointment is prescribed, which has to be applied on the nipples after every feed and removed before the next feed. Severe cases may require anti-fungal tablets. It is advised to continue breastfeeding while taking treatment so baby doesn’t lose out on nourishment and the mother’s milk supply is maintained.
8 Tips to Prevent Oral Thrush in Babies
1. Clean and sterilize all feeding utensils of the baby, especially nipples and pacifiers
2. Wash your nipples with warm water and dry them well
3. Use bras and nursing pads made of breathable material like cotton that does not trap moisture
4. If baby is over six months, offer her some water after a feed to rinse away leftover milk in the mouth
6. Wash bras and baby clothes in hot water and dry in bright sunlight
7. Include immune boosting foods in baby’s diet
8. Include probiotic-rich foods in both mother’s and baby’s diet
Tips to Clean Baby’s Tongue
The white deposits on the tongue due to oral thrush cannot be cleaned, so leave them alone. Once baby has recovered from the thrush, maintain a routine of cleaning the tongue with clean water. Here are a few tips to do it:
1. Use a sterile gauze or soft cloth wrapped around your finger and dipped in water to wipe the baby’s tongue
2. You can also use a sterile ear bud dipped in water, and roll it across the tongue
3. Infant tongue cleaners are available, made of silicone and with small raised bumps on the surface
4. To clean your baby’s tongue, cradle your baby baby with one arm, and use the free hand to clean
5. Be sure to clean the gums and insides of the cheeks along with the tongue
6. Keep baby entertained while cleaning so you can access all parts of the mouth
If your baby gets recurring oral thrush infections or if she is over 9 months old, there may be another underlying reason. In such cases and if your baby is under 4 months or the thrush is accompanied by fever, it’s better to get your pediatrician’s advice.