One of the cutest — and most fragile — things about very young babies is how they’re like real-life bobblehead dolls. Most newborns can’t hold their head upright and still until they’re about 4 to 6 months old. This is because it takes time for a baby’s neck muscles to develop.
Before they reach this important muscle milestone, babies are prone to rashes on the neck because their drooping heads cause skin folds.
Sometimes a baby’s neck rash may be caused or worsened by a yeast infection. This happens when normal yeasts that live in and on our bodies grow a bit more than they should.
Don’t worry. Baby yeast infections on the neck are common and treatable. In most cases, they go away on their own once your baby is able to lift up their head more often (hello, tummy time!).
Here’s what to know and when you should see a pediatrician about baby’s neck yeast infection.
Yeasts are a type of fungus. A common kind of yeast called Candida is found on the skin and in the mouth, gut, and genital area.
When this kind of yeast overgrows, the infection is called candidiasis. Yes, this is the same kind of yeast that can cause a vaginal infection in adults!
At healthy levels, Candida and other yeast live harmoniously with bacteria and other friendly organisms in our body.
But sometimes, an imbalance happens and the yeast starts growing more than it should. This may happen in babies because their immune systems are still new and growing. Babies may also not yet have enough friendly gut bacteria to help keep yeast growth at bay.
Candida can cause yeast infections called thrush in skin folds in the neck, armpits, groin, bottom, vagina, and legs. Babies can also have oral thrush, a yeast infection in the mouth and throat, and on the tongue. Some diaper rashes are also caused by a yeast infection.
A yeast infection on a baby’s neck might begin in the skin folds and spread to nearby neck skin. It may look like:
- redness in the skin folds
- pink, moist patches
- red or pink scaly or rough patches
- redness with raised edges
- redness with tiny bumps
- skin discoloration patches
- gray or white powdery patches on the skin
- redness with swelling
- a red sore in the skin folds with satellite spots or rashes around it
The soft folds of skin on a baby’s neck create the perfect warm, moist environment for a yeast infection to blossom. All that drooling and spit-up doesn’t help, either!
In fact, another kind of yeast infection that babies can have on their chin and other areas is called a drool rash. A thrush infection in a baby’s mouth or throat can sometimes spread to the neck through drool, spit-up, and vomit.
Yeast loves to grow in places that have wetness and less oxygen. Clothing or blankets can also cause friction, irritating a baby’s delicate neck skin. A sore or irritated area on the neck is more likely to get a yeast infection because it might ooze liquid.
Your doctor may check to see if your baby has a neck yeast infection by looking at the area carefully or gently wiping it with a cotton swab to test.
Some mild baby yeast infections on the neck go away on their own once your baby starts lifting their head more and has fewer skin folds.
Other yeast infections may need to be treated with antifungal skin (topical) medications. One kind of skin treatment for yeast infections is a combination of the antifungal medication miconazole and zinc oxide.
This antifungal treatment is available in ointment and spray form. Antifungal ointment shouldn’t be used on a baby younger than 4 weeks old.
Ask your baby’s pediatrician before using antifungal ointment or spray on your baby’s skin. Apply the antifungal ointment or spray with a cotton swab to help get it only where it’s needed on baby’s delicate skin.
If your baby has yeast infections on other parts of the body or in the mouth, your pediatrician may prescribe an oral antifungal medication such as fluconazole.
This medication comes in liquid form and can be given by mouth with a dropper or syringe. Babies typically get a low dose of fluconazole once every 2 to 3 days.
Most neck yeast infections in babies go away within 2 weeks after treatment begins. But they can happen again in the same areas.
Babies can get bacterial infections on the neck similar to how yeast neck infections happen. Yeast infections will likely look slightly different than other kinds of rashes, and they won’t get better with typical rash creams.
A bacterial infection on the neck may look more like a red, flat sore that’s only on one area of a skin fold. Baby eczema and dermatitis can also happen on the neck.
These kinds of infections may cause more itching than a yeast neck infection, so your baby might appear more uncomfortable.
You may not always be able to prevent a yeast infection on your baby’s neck. Tips to reduce the risk of a yeast neck infection or prevent it from worsening are similar to how to prevent a diaper rash or infection on other parts of the body. They include:
- Lay your baby flat on their back when sleeping to help straighten the neck. (This is necessary for safe sleeping, anyway.)
- Avoid letting your baby sleep in their car seat or any kind of seat where their head slouches over. (This is also a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).)
- Avoid clothing or blankets around the neck when baby is indoors.
- Avoid dressing your baby in rough fabrics or tight clothing.
- Remove clothing and let your baby’s neck and chest air out in a warm, dry area after being bundled up.
- Wash your baby’s neck with a sterile washcloth and warm, soapy water.
- Clean and dry baby’s neck regularly — especially after feeding, drooling, spitting up, or vomiting (so basically whenever possible!).
- Check and sterilize baby’s pacifiers, bottle nipples, and teething toys with boiled or very hot water. Running them through the dishwasher on a high temperature is an easy way to do this.
- Avoid using antibacterial soap or cleanser anywhere on your baby’s skin. This may remove healthy skin bacteria and trigger a yeast infection.
- Similarly, avoid using antibacterial ointment or cream on your baby’s neck.
- Avoid using harsh or chemical soaps, shampoos, and laundry detergents. These may irritate baby’s skin, leading to skin infections.
- Avoid using moisturizer or lotion on your baby’s neck.
- Avoid touching or kissing your baby’s neck area.
Always let your baby’s doctor know about any kind of rash your baby has. A doctor can confirm whether it’s a yeast infection or another kind of rash. They can also determine whether your baby needs medical treatment.
An untreated yeast infection on a baby’s neck can worsen and spread to others areas of the skin and even inside to the blood.
Baby neck yeast infections are a kind of skin rash that can happen to babies of any age. They’re most common in babies under 4 months old because they have more neck skin folds. Yeast or fungi are a normal healthy part of our bodies, but they can sometimes overgrow, leading to an infection.
Yeast like to grow in warm and moist areas. Most babies outgrow yeast neck infections. In more serious cases, your pediatrician may prescribe antifungal treatment.