How to prevent common baby genital infections

From vaginal thrush to a foreskin infection, here are a few expert tips on how to prevent common baby genital infections.

Because your baby is nappy for most of their infant life, parents need to be extra careful in ensuring their baby doesn’t develop genital infections. Here is how to care for and clean your baby’s genitals.

Vaginal thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of candida, which is naturally found on the skin or in the gut. Symptoms include swelling, redness, itchiness, and vaginal discharge, as well as white or yellowish thrush patches that may also be visible in your baby’s mouth.

Several factors can cause the overgrowth of candida, such as a pH imbalance. Breastfed children may also develop thrush if it is transferred from the mom’s nipple to the child’s mouth. Your baby may be prescribed an antifungal skin spray, topical cream, or oral probiotics to treat the condition.

Using gentle pH-balanced products and giving your baby some nappy-free time may assist in preventing thrush.

Good to know: Call your doctor if you need a diagnosis, as thrush is unlikely to be an emergency condition.


Irritation and inflammation of the vagina and vulva (the opening of the vagina) is a common condition that affects women and girls of all ages. Symptoms include redness and itching in the area, pain and/or burning in the vagina, peeling skin, and vaginal discharge.

Causes may be contamination from bowel bacteria, an allergy, or sensitivity to baby products are the main causes. Depending on the underlying cause, a topical cream may be prescribed.

Always practise good hygiene by using gentle pH-balanced products that are unscented. Remember that if the skin is peeling or blistering, soap may aggravate the condition.

Good to know: Call your doctor if the irritation doesn’t settle or you notice a blood-stained discharge.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

This infection of the bladder is also known as cystitis. Left untreated, the infection may spread to the kidneys, resulting in an upper urinary tract infection (UTI), which can be severe. A lower UTI often causes a burning sensation when urinating, pain in the lower abdomen, and frequent urination. Your baby may cry when she urinates, refuse to eat, and have a fever. She may also be persistently irritable.

UTIs are either bacterial or, less commonly, viral. Bacterial UTIs are more common in girls because the urethra is shorter, and bacteria from the bowel can easily reach the bladder. UTIs are relatively common in babies and toddlers who are not toilet trained, as bacteria from faeces in the nappy can cause an infection.

If you suspect your child may have a UTI, it’s important to take her to the doctor for a proper diagnosis. The doctor will prescribe appropriate treatment (usually antibiotics). Practise good hygiene with gentle baby products and frequent nappy changes as soon as possible after a bowel movement.

Good to know: Call your doctor if your child has a temperature or you find blood in her urine.


Balanitis is the medical term for when the head of the penis is swollen, sore, or inflamed. The symptoms often get worse over three to seven days and can include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or itching on the head of the penis (also called the glans)
  • Red sores on the head of the penis or the skin around the head of the penis
  • Thick, odorous pus on the head of the penis
  • Problems urinating

If these symptoms are not treated, the penis can swell and, in uncircumcised boys, the foreskin can get stuck to the head of the penis and form scars. Poor hygiene is the usual cause of balanitis. If your son has the symptoms above, see your doctor as soon as possible.

The treatment includes antifungal creams or gels for a yeast infection, antibiotics for a bacterial infection, and steroid creams or ointments for an allergic or skin reaction to soap. Always keep your son’s penis clean. Wash the area gently with lukewarm water. Only use mild soap and pat dry.

Good to know: Call your doctor if your son isn’t circumcised and his foreskin is stuck just below the head of his penis and won’t move, as this could cause permanent damage.

Foreskin infection

This is common in uncircumcised baby boys after birth when the foreskin is stuck in place and can’t be pulled back over the tip of the penis. Symptoms include redness, pain, and swelling of the tip of the penis during urination, which is for a short duration, and white lumps under the foreskin.

The treatment depends on the cause but can include antibacterial ointments or oral antibiotics. Always wash your baby’s penis with a non-irritating soap and change his nappy regularly.

Good to know: Call your doctor if your son seems to be in pain when urinating, his penis is swollen, red, or bleeding, his stream of urine dribbles or goes off to one side, or his foreskin can’t return to its normal position.


Hydrocele is a build-up of fluid inside the scrotum (the skin sac that holds the testicles). It is common in newborns and will usually heal by the time the child is one year old. Hydrocele usually doesn’t present any symptoms, except when it gets large. If this happens, the symptoms can include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the scrotum
  • A feeling of fullness or heaviness in the scrotum
  • Swelling or irritation of the skin around the scrotum

Treatment is often not necessary as it will go away on its own. If, however, it’s still present at the age of one, the child will probably need surgery to remove the fluid.

Good to know: Call your doctor to have your child evaluated if you suspect an issue.  

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