Thrush—known formally as Candida albicans—is a common, often harmless yeast infection that can occur in your baby’s mouth and diaper region. Since it thrives in these warm, moist areas, it’s extremely stubborn, and can be difficult to get rid of. Unfortunately, it’s also quickly and easily transferred back and forth from baby to your breast if you’re nursing, and will stick around until you’re both totally clear of it.
Symptoms of Thrush
Your baby may show all, some or none of these signs if she’s suffering from thrush. If you suspect a yeast infection, take note of both your little one’s telltale signals and any symptoms you may have. The most common symptom of thrush is white or gray spots or patches on the inside of your baby’s mouth, gums, or on her tongue. These can be quite painful, so be gentle if you try to wipe it off—a milk coating will wipe away easily, but thrush won’t. Other signs include an opalescent shine on her lips or inside her mouth, a red face and cheeks, persistent diaper rash, fussiness that gets worse during or after feeding and, in extreme cases, bleeding of the mouth or gums.
If you suspect your child has thrush, it’s important to inspect yourself for symptoms as well, since it’s contagious. Look for pain in your nipples or breasts (especially during or after feedings), inflamed discoloration of your nipple and areola, dry or peeling nipples, a rash or white spots on your nipples, or itchiness and soreness. Also, you’re particularly susceptible to thrush when you’re taking antibiotics, since medications kill off the bacteria that usually keep candida under control.
If you’ve realized you and your little one are dealing with thrush, you two will need a simultaneous treatment plan to get rid of the infection. Here are some tips on dealing with thrush that’s affecting you, your baby and your family.
- Family first. Since thrush is highly contagious, it’s important that you alert all of your family members to check for signs of the infection. If you’re nursing an older baby as well, check her for symptoms similar to those in your infant. Remind your partner to check for other signs of thrush, including athlete’s foot, severe dandruff, jock itch, and vaginal yeast infections. The only way to successfully combat the infection is to get rid of it completely, so you prevent passing it among yourselves.
- Nursing woes. While many kids with thrush don’t respond to the infection, others experience pain—which can lead to trouble with breastfeeding. If your baby’s whimpering and having trouble feeding, the thrush should be treated promptly and aggressively so that her growth isn’t compromised. If she’s stunted by an aggressive infection, it could have an adverse affect on her development down the line.
- Doc talk. Keep the lines of communication open with your pediatrician. Most likely, he’ll prescribe a topical medication, which you’ll need to apply directly to your baby’s mouth to get rid of the infection and minimize the pain she’s enduring. Doctors most commonly prescribe an anti-fungal cream. If heavy duty topical medication makes you uncomfortable, a homeopathic doctor can talk with you about using a tincture made of usnea lichen, mugwort, rosemary, or unsweetened yogurt with active cultures. Apply either solution to your baby’s mouth, as well as your own nipples and areolae.
- Pain relief. If you’re miserable with thrush, talk to your doc about finding an over-the-counter remedy, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen, for pain. If you’re not interested in pills, try using an ice pack or massaging your breasts prior to feeding, Start nursing sessions on the most comfortable side, and be sure your little one’s latched properly before beginning to feed. Avoid using breast pads, which create a warm, moist environment, and allow your nipples to air dry before putting on any clothing.
Preventing Recurring Infections
Thrush can be terribly uncomfortable, but there’s a silver lining—these infections are 100 percent preventable. Use these tips to keep your home infection-free:
- Change dirty diapers immediately.
- Coat your baby’s bottom with a diaper ointment.
- Let your baby’s bottom dry thoroughly before re-diapering, and allow her time to be naked during the day.
- Avoid using plastic diaper covers—instead, use coverings that allow air to circulate, or go cover-less.
- Wash cloth diapers, cloth wipes, towels, and washcloths in very hot water to remove all traces of the yeast. A vinegar rinse will complete the disinfecting process.
- Clean and sterilize all pacifiers, teethers, and bottle nipples after each use.
- Let your nipples dry after breastfeeding, before covering them with clothing.
- Avoid letting your baby suck on a bottle or pacifier for long periods of time.
- Dump breast milk that was pumped and stored during a thrush infection—it may contain harmful bacteria.
- Always wash your hands—and your baby’s—after breastfeeding, changing diapers, and using the restroom, paying particular attention to underneath your fingernails.
- Avoid candy and other sugary goodies—high levels of sugar create an environment where yeast thrives. Additionally, pass on fermented foods, such as cheese, beer, and wine.
- Add plain yogurt to your diet—and to your baby’s diet if she’s eating solids—as live cultures can help prevent yeast infections.
- Wear clothing that allows the skin to breathe, and avoid synthetic fabrics.
- Use regular hand soap instead of antibacterial soap; it kills beneficial bacteria that control yeast growth.
Thrush can be uncomfortable for you and baby both, but eventually it’ll pass. By following the tips outlined above, you can keep future infections at bay for a happier, healthier mama and baby.
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company. She is also the author of eight parenting books, including the popular "No-Cry" series.