If your baby sister’s mouth suddenly gets some weird white splotches on it and she seems fussy and not interested in eating, chances are she has something called “thrush”. This is a common infection among babies and in most cases, it can be cleared up right at home with medications prescribed by the doctor. Read on to find out all about thrush!

What is Thrush?

Thrush is what happens when a baby’s mouth (and sometimes their throat) gets infected by a yeast called Candidiasis albicans.  It usually occurs in babies under 2 months of age but can happen in older babies as well.  It is also called oral thrush or oral candidiasis.

Babies usually get exposed to Candida while they are being born because it is present in the birth canal most have it in their mouths just normally.  Usually, bacteria which is also in the mouth will keep the yeast in check. However, if the balance of bacteria is changed – if the baby takes antibiotics for instance – this can spark an infection.

How Do You Know if a Baby has Thrush?

Believe it or not, some babies who have thrush don’t seem bothered by it!  For others, the first sign can be a decreased interest in feeding or seem fussy or irritated from feeding. This is because the thrush is causing mouth pain when the baby tries to feed.  Other signs and symptoms include:

  • White lesions on the baby’s tongue, cheeks, roof of the mouth, tonsils or gums
  • Lesions that have the appearance of cottage cheese; beneath this the skin is red and can bleed easily
  • Redness or soreness of the mouth, cheeks or tongue
  • Painful or difficult swallowing or feeding
  • Bleeding if lesions are disturbed
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Cracks or redness at the corners of the mouth

Sometimes milk residue can make a baby’s mouth appear whitish as well. If your parent is not sure, they can gently scrape a bit of this white area off. If it is milk residue, it will come of easily. If it is a fungal infection, it will be more difficult and will bleed a little afterwards.

What Causes Thrush?

The exact cause of thrush is unknown.  However, pediatricians suspect that possible causes may include:

  • Hormone changes in the baby after birth that can lead to having too much yeast
  • Not washing the nipples of baby bottles or pacifiers; these need to be washed in hot water or in a dishwasher between each use
  • Prolonged use of pacifiers or bottles

Can Thrush be Passed from One Person to Another?

Unfortunately, if your mom is breastfeeding, it is possible to pass the thrush infection back and forth between mom and baby during feedings. Women with a thrush infection of the breast can have a lot of uncomfortable signs and symptoms, including red, cracking or itching nipples, flaky or shiny skin on the nipple, painful nursing, nipple pain between feedings and stabbing pains in the breast.  They should report this to the doctor so that they can receive treatment and stop the cycle of infection.

Who is at Risk for Thrush?

There are factors that put babies at a greater risk for developing thrush. These can include:

Antibiotics are a risk factor because they can kill off good bacteria as well as bad bacteria in the body.  The good bacteria help to keep yeast like Candida at a low level, but if there is not enough good bacteria, the yeast can spread and cause this kind of infection.

Are there Complications from Thrush?

If a baby is healthy to begin with, there are usually no complications from thrush and it will go away with treatment.

However, some babies have weaker immune systems.  In these babies, thrush can spread to the digestive tract as well as important organs like the lungs, liver and the heart (particularly the valves). It can also spread down the throat and into the baby’s esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). This can make is hard for a baby to swallow food or breastmilk.

If a baby gets a candidiasis infection in his intestines, this can make it harder for them to absorb nutrients from food and milk.  This can lead to malnutrition, which can affect who well a baby grows and develops.

How Does the Doctor Know if a Baby has Thrush?

Usually, a doctor will be able to tell if a baby has thrush just by looking at the lesions in the mouth.  Sometimes they will take a swab of the baby’s mouth and send it to a lab to find out more about it.  If a doctor thinks that the yeast has spread to the esophagus, they will want to get a throat culture and send it to the lab as well. They might also want to perform something called an endoscopy.  This is a procedure that allows the doctor to look directly at the esophagus in order to evaluate it.

How is Thrush Treated?

Fortunately, thrush is actually pretty easy to treat in most cases.  Doctors will sometimes put babies on what is called an anti-fungal medications, meaning that it can kill off different kinds of fungi – like yeast! The most common medication prescribed for thrush is called nystatin.

If a mother’s nipples are also infected, the doctor will give her an antifungal cream to put on her breasts to make the yeast infection go away.   He will probably talk to your mom about the best way to clean bottles and nipples from those bottles as well as breast pumps, which are devices that women can use to get breastmilk even when their baby is feeding.   He may also recommend that your mom use nursing pads, which help prevent the infection from spreading and contaminating clothing.

So, there you have it.  Thrush can be difficult for a baby – and for mom as well! – but in the vast majority of cases, home care and lots of TLC is all that is needed to get things back on track!