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Oral thrush in babies: the causes, symptoms and treatment

Dr Stephanie Ooi

6 minutes

09/14/2021

If you have noticed that your baby is abnormally cranky when feeding, if he or she has white spots on the mouth or tongue, or even if your own nipples are exceptionally raw and red, your baby may have oral thrush1. It’s uncomfortable, but whether with time or treatment, it will go away, giving you and your baby reason to smile again. Read on to learn more about what causes oral thrush and how to deal with it.

  1. What is oral thrush in babies?

  2. What does oral thrush look like in babies?

  3. What causes oral thrush in babies?

  4. What are the symptoms of oral thrush in babies?

  5. Is oral thrush contagious?

  6. Newborn oral thrush treatment

  7. How to prevent oral thrush in babies

1. What is oral thrush in babies?

Oral thrush is a fungal infection caused by candida, a type of yeast, that can grow out of control. The good news is that thrush is harmless and exceptionally common in babies2 . The bad news is that it can leave a baby’s mouth feeling sore, and that can make life – and feeding – difficult for your baby and you.

2. What does oral thrush look like in babies?3

Oral thrush isn’t pretty – and it causes a lot of the parents I see a lot of concern! It is marked by redness and white spots on the mouth and tongue or a white coating on the tongue. Further, if you rub away a white spot, you may find blood underneath – a sure sign of the discomfort that comes with oral thrush.

Further, babies with oral thrush may also have persistent diaper rash, which does not clear with typical care and over the counter creams.

3. What causes oral thrush in babies?

Babies are particularly susceptible to thrush because their immune systems are not yet fully fledged. Their underdeveloped immunity may not be as effective in fending off the fungal infections that our adult immune systems can. Babies do come into contact with candida in their earliest days, whether exposed to it within the birth canal, or via hand to mouth contact once born.

Further, if their immature immune systems leave them vulnerable to bacterial infections, which may require antibiotics, those medications can also kill the ‘good bacteria’ that are another line of defence against fungal infections.

4. What are the symptoms of oral thrush in babies?

Because the symptoms of oral thrush are visible, it is, pardon the pun, easy to spot. The tell-tale signs include redness, white patches and notable discomfort at feeding time. Diaper rash and its raised red bumps are further evidence that oral thrush has taken hold4.

5. Is oral thrush contagious?

Oral thrush is not generally considered to be contagious in adults, but for babies, it can be spread by hand to mouth contact, shared pacifiers or bottle nipples and to a mother’s nipples from the baby’s mouth5 . This can make breastfeeding painful for both!

6. Oral thrush in babies treatment

Newborn oral thrush can be self-clearing, but if your baby’s symptoms persist for more than a week, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about prescription anti-fungal medicines. There are a range of gels and suspensions and they should take about 7 days to clear an infection6.

7. How to prevent oral thrush in babies

It may not be possible to fully prevent oral thrush in newborns, but sterilizing bottles, pacifiers and feeding equipment will never go amiss. Over time, as your baby’s immune system becomes more robust, they will be better able to fight these types of infections7.

If you found our oral thrush in babies article useful then be sure to look at our other in-depth articles on common baby skin conditions and baby advice on our Parenting Community, like the below:

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About the Author

Dr Stephanie Ooi

Dr Stephanie Ooi

Dr Stephanie Ooi is a private doctor at the MyHealthcare Clinic in London. Stephanie has a special interest in pediatrics as well as women’s physical and mental health. Alongside her professional interest, Dr Stephanie has personal experience of caring for two newborns as a mom to two young girls which she regularly documents on her Instagram – the GP Mum.

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