Infant And Toddler Thrush: What Causes It, And How Can We Stop It?

Learn what causes oral thrush infections in infants and toddlers and what you can do to help the infection pass quickly.

Thrush, a common ailment in infants and toddlers, is caused by an overgrowth of a type of yeast called Candida albicans. Many children will see this infection before they are a year old, particularly those who are breastfed or regularly take antibiotics. There are several different causes, and at least as many treatments.

Thrush looks like white patches of milk or cottage cheese in the mouth. Patches can be on the cheeks, tongue, gums, or roof of the mouth. Sometimes parents mistake actual milk residue for symptoms of thrush. You will know the difference between leftover milk residue and thrush if you try to wipe the white patches off - if they come off easily, it is milk residue. If the white patches are difficult to remove, or result in bleeding or inflammation, you are looking at thrush.

When babies have thrush, their mouths become very tender and sore, and nursing or eating may be uncomfortable for them. You may notice your infant or toddler not wanting to nurse/eat, or nursing vigorously, stopping, and then crying, only to repeat the process again. This is another very common sign of a thrush infection.

Thrush can also appear as a diaper rash. This is a rash caused by yeast that is bright pink or red with a defined edge. Sometimes there are small red bumps near the edge of the rash. Thrush in the diaper area does not have white spots, and does not look anything like oral thrush.

Thrush is brought on by many different culprits, but is generally helped along by any situation that causes an overgrowth of yeast. Children who are more susceptible to this infection include an infant who is born to a mother with a vaginal yeast infection at the time of delivery, a breastfed child who has contracted the infection from their mother through nursing, an infant born to a diabetic mother, an infant with an oral birth defect (cleft lip/palate), and infants or toddlers who are prescribed a course of antibiotics.

There are several medical ways to treat thrush. Most commonly, a doctor will prescribe Nystatin. This is a suspension which is administered orally, and works best if it can be swiped all around the infected areas before being swallowed. Another effective option is gentian violet, but some parents are wary of this as it stains anything in its path a dark shade of purple - it wears off of the mouth, but does not come out of clothing. Depending on how widely spread the infection is, and the age of your child, a different medication may be necessary.

Other ways to treat thrush are less medical, but more work. Bottles used by children infected with thrush should be washed immediately after use in BOILING water. This is also true of any toys or items which your infant/toddler may put in their mouth because of teething or play.

Mothers of infected breastfed children should be treated with an antifungal cream, as mother and child often pass the infection back and forth.

Rinse your child's mouth with boiled water that has cooled after they nurse/eat to clear anything left in their mouth and prevent spreading infection. Be careful to let the water cool fully to reach a comfortable temperature.

Add natural/unsweetened yogurt (with live active cultures) to your child's diet to help restore their natural balance of bacteria.

Do not allow children or adults to share pacifiers, bottles, or any other items that may pass from mouth to mouth.

Do not allow people to put their hands/fingers in your child's mouth.

Generally speaking, these options should take care of a thrush infection. If you suspect your child has thrush, contact your doctor to explore treatment options. If the infection is not responding as expected to treatment, be sure to contact your doctor again. There are other options you can try - a change in diet is often suggested, as less sugary foods will not feed the yeast infection. It is also helpful to not allow the child to drink city water. City water has been chlorinated, and chlorination works the same as antibiotics in regards to a thrush infection - the bad bacteria is killed off, but so is the good. This causes an imbalance in the natural internal environment and invites a thrush infection to thrive. Use whatever options are available to you to help fight the thrush infection, and make sure to take measures to prevent it from coming back!

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