It's common for babies to develop chalky white spots on their tongues. Sometimes these spots are milk spots—these spots are harmless and can be easily wiped away with your finger. When you can't wipe off the spots at all, it's a good indicator that your baby has developed thrush.
Thankfully, thrush is not a serious condition. However, it can be quite annoying. Thrush can cause mouth irritation that makes feeding painful for your baby. Worse, the infection can be spread around easily once it has developed. It's not uncommon for breastfeeding mothers to continually pass the same infection back and forth with their babies. To reduce the chance of this happening, read on to find out more about thrush and the best way to treat it.
What Causes Thrush?
Thrush is caused by the overgrowth of a yeast called Candida in your baby's mouth, which shows up as chalky white spots. Candida naturally occurs in the human mouth, but the immune system and other bacteria in the body keep it in check and don't allow it to rampantly grow. Since babies have weaker immune systems compared to adults, they're susceptible to an overgrowth of Candida—that's why babies come down with thrush so often.
If you suspect that your baby has thrush, it's important to schedule an appointment with your baby's doctor. First, you'll receive a definitive diagnosis of thrush. More importantly, you'll be prescribed nystatin, which is an anti-fungal medication that rapidly kills Candida.
How Do You Treat Thrush?
In order to treat thrush, you apply nystatin to a swab and cover your baby's entire mouth with the medication three times a day. You'll administer the medication until the thrush is completely gone, and then continue to administer it for five days afterwards—this ensures that all of the Candida has been destroyed. It's also important to completely cover the inside of your baby's mouth with nystatin instead of simply applying it to the white thrush patches, as Candida can be lurking elsewhere inside your baby's mouth.
If nystatin is ineffective, then your baby's doctor may have you switch to gentian violet instead. This is an older treatment for thrush that is generally less effective than nystatin but can sometimes be useful in cases where nystatin isn't working. It's applied in the same way as nystatin. Be warned that gentian violet will permanently stain everything purple—it's a dye. Make sure you and your baby aren't wearing anything you wouldn't mind permanently throwing away if you accidentally drop gentian violet on it.
How Do You Stop Thrush From Coming Back?
As mentioned above, Candida occurs naturally in the mouth, and thrush infections begin when the immune system lets it grow out of control. However, once the overgrowth has started, it can be spread very easily—there's simply too much Candida on infected material for the immune system to handle, so it continues to grow.
If you're breastfeeding, you may develop a Candida infection on your nipples. This will often cause the skin on the nipples to crack, and it can be extremely painful in some cases. If you are breastfeeding, make sure that you inform your baby's doctor about this fact—you'll need to treat yourself for a Candida infection as well, even if you don't have any symptoms.
Thankfully, it's treated with the same medications used to treat thrush: nystatin or gentian violet. The medication is applied to your nipple three times a day, and you'll also need to apply it before feeding. Again, keep applying the medication for five days after your baby's thrush has appeared to clear up—you don't want to keep spreading the Candida back and forth.
If you're using a bottle, you'll also need to disinfect the bottle and the nipple by boiling them for five minutes. This will kill the Candida. Any pumping equipment should be immersed in a solution of ten parts water and one part bleach and then rinsed thoroughly with water. Launder any items that may have been in contact with Candida (such as bras) in hot water in order to disinfect them.
By following the treatment protocol properly and disinfecting anything that may be contaminated with Candida, you'll help to prevent thrush from coming back. The most important step you can take is to schedule an appointment with your baby's doctor as soon as you suspect that your baby has thrush in order to begin treatment, as this keeps the spread of Candida to a minimum.
To learn more, contact a medical office like Kitsap Children's Clinic LLP.
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