Signs of oral thrush
You may notice some white or cream-coloured spots or patches around your baby’s mouth and tongue, inside their cheeks or on their gums. These may be thrush patches and can easily be mistaken for bit of milk residue. However, they will not rub or wash off easily and the skin underneath will be red and raw and may even bleed a little.
It’s unlikely your baby will be bothered by the patches if they are left alone; in some cases, however, they can cause soreness and make babies reluctant or fussy feeders.
Causes of thrush
Oral thrush is caused by a yeast (a microorganism) called Candida albicans. Everybody has this yeast in their bodies and it usually doesn’t cause any problems. When conditions are suitable, however, the yeast can quickly multiply and cause a fungal infection.
It’s often not known exactly what causes an oral thrush infection, which is usually found in children up to two years of age and is very common in the first 12 months. Newborns are more vulnerable as their immune systems are still developing, which is why it’s particularly likely to affect premature babies.
If you notice any signs of thrush in your baby, don’t be alarmed. It may resolve itself in a few days without any treatment. If the signs persist or seem to be troubling your baby, talk to your maternal and child health nurse or a GP. Several antifungal treatments are available for oral thrush, but a healthcare professional will be able to advise whether they are suitable for your baby.
- During breastfeeding, a woman’s nipples can also be carrying the infection and may need to be treated at the same time, otherwise the infection can keep passing between mother and baby.
Thrush can sometimes develop in the nappy region and on other areas of a baby’s body. Unlike oral thrush, a skin rash with thrush doesn’t have white spots, but is likely to appear as red patches with small red spots near the edge. The key indicator that the rash is fungal is if it doesn’t clear up with the usual nappy rash treatments.
If a nappy rash doesn’t improve after three days or doesn’t respond to your usual cream, it may need antifungal treatment. Seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Because everyone has the yeast in and on their bodies, it is impossible to completely protect a baby from thrush. However, you can help reduce the chance of infection by regularly sterilising any bottles, teats and other bottle-feeding equipment, as well as teething rings and other oral toys. Do not put your own mouth on the teat of a bottle and clean your baby’s gums gently with a damp rag after feeding.
When to seek medical advice
Talk to a healthcare professional if:
- you suspect thrush and it doesn’t clear up after a couple of days
- you suspect thrush and your child seems irritated by it or is not feeding well
- your baby is generally unwell or has a fever for no obvious reason
- your child has recurring thrush infection, even though you’re using recommended treatment
- your baby has a nappy rash that is not improving after three days or seems particularly troublesome or severe.