Thrush in Babies: Everything You Need to Know

Thrush in babies is harmless, treatable and won't derail breastfeeding. Once you've treated this infection, you'll be back on the nursing track

Your boobs hurt, your baby has white spots in her mouth, and you're both cranky. What's going on? Don't worry, mama -- it's probably just thrush, a pesky but harmless infection that can affect both babies and breastfeeding moms. Here's everything you need to know about it:

What is thrush?
Oral thrush in babies is an infection that appears as whitish patches in and around your baby's mouth and tongue. Growth of this yeast is normal (most people have it in their mouths, gastro-intestinal tracts and genital area), but when there's too much, an infection may be the result.

What causes thrush?
A common, harmless type of yeast called Candida albicans causes thrush. Babies come in contact with it in utero and when passing through the vagina; they may also be susceptible to thrush because of their immature immune systems. It can flare up because of hormonal changes in pregnancy, during an illness or when a breastfeeding mom takes antibiotics or steroids (these medicines kill the yeast's 'good' bacteria).

Yeast thrives in warm, moist, sugary places, so a baby's mouth and genitals are the perfect breeding grounds. Some babies -- and their moms -- may simply be more inclined to develop it.

What are the symptoms of thrush?
Look for milky white spots on your baby's lips, tongue and insides of her mouth that can't be wiped away. If the substance is just on her tongue and you can wipe it off, it's probably just milk residue. Thrush may also cause soreness in your baby's mouth (take note if she's unusually fussy when nursing) and can cause a yeast diaper infection, too (watch for added redness and irritation around her genitals).

What do I need to know about thrush and breastfeeding?
A case of thrush can be passed from baby to mom, so be aware of the following symptoms: itchy, red, shiny, sore nipples, breast pain before or after feedings, a vaginal yeast infection. But rest assured, it's easy to identify thrush, and breastfeeding can continue the entire time thrush is being treated. "The benefits of breastfeeding trump almost everything, including thrush, so definitely keep it up," urges Virginia Lupo, M.D., chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN.

What's the best thrush treatment?
Check with your doctor to confirm thrush; it takes about a week to treat, though some cases may clear up on their own. Thrush in a baby is typically treated with an antibiotic antifungal solution like nystatin (there are many brand names), which is swabbed on the white patches in the mouth a few times a day. Other remedies include clotrimazole (Lotramin) and fluconazole (Diflucan). Some babies with thrush may also develop a yeast diaper infection, so a prescription antifungal medication -- usually a cream -- is required.

Because thrush may be passed back and forth during breastfeeding, moms need treatment, too. Antifungal over-the-counter creams like Nystatin, Lotramin or Monistat (miconazole) are usually recommended; ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can be taken to ease breast pain. It's a good idea to wash pacifiers and breast pump parts after each use while treating a case of thrush to avoid reinfection.

Can thrush be prevented?
Thrush is difficult to prevent, but there are a few things you can do to lessen the risk. Limit antibiotic use, keep pacifiers and other teething toys super clean and try to air-dry your nipples after feedings (it helps to prevent drying and cracking and may reduce the chance of infection.) You might also add yogurt with live lactobacillus acidophilis cultures to your diet to help promote the growth of 'good' bacteria.

Read more:
Your Breastfeeding Diet: What All Nursing Mamas Need to Know About Eating Right

Mastitis 101
: Everything Breastfeeding Mamas Need to Know to Feel Better Fast

How to Get Your Breast Pump Covered by Insurance

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