My nine-month-old daughter has a thick white vaginal discharge, which I noticed while changing her diaper. I am scared because I don’t know what could be wrong with her and I also don’t know how to get rid of the discharge. Could she have been sexually abused?

Rhodah Kaluki

Kitui

A vaginal discharge of thick white mucus is normal in young girls below the age of eight. However, you need to worry if the discharge is yellowish or brown in colour and has fish odour or any other foul smell because it could indicate an infection. When a child has an infection, she may experience irritation, redness, swelling and itching of the affected vaginal area. A thick white or yellow discharge may accompany a burning sensation. The skin around the vulva and vagina of young girls is very delicate and irritation or infection can easily cause inflammation and discharge. The child’s young and developing immune system may not fight off infections as effectively as the adult immune system.

An infection in a child this age is most likely due to a yeast infection, and rarely a result of sexual molestation. However, you do need to take your child to a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Usually the doctor will start with a physical examination of the affected area to rule out any kind of sexual abuse or any other kind of trauma. Sometimes children may insert foreign objects in their vagina and this may be the cause of the infection. If there is need, a small sample may be scraped from the infected area for further examination in a laboratory, and this will guide the doctor on the course of treatment.

STOPPING THE DISCHARGE

Vaginal irritation and discharges in young girls may also be a result of small particles of faeces from the anal area getting into the vaginal canal. You should wipe the child from front to back to avoid the spread of faecal matter and bacteria to the genital area as these could result in yeast infections. Also ensure you change the diaper frequently as a faecal material mixed with urine is likely to get to the vaginal area if left for long.

Avoid using strongly scented soaps to bath the baby, as they could also cause irritation of the genital area. Use mild soaps for toddlers and dry the genital area by gently patting it with a towel as irritation may occur if too much pressure is applied.

Most children below the age of two are usually in diapers or nappies most of the time, which restricts the skin’s free breathing. You should dress your child in loose fitting cotton clothing as nylon underwear or plastic panties trap moisture, causing yeast infections. Cotton is good for moisture absorption. Wet or soiled diapers can also cause infection in their genitals.

As girls grow, they sometimes insert toys or other objects into their vaginas while playing, which can cause persistent infection resulting in a foul-smelling discharge. As a parent or caregiver, teach the children about the dangers of this habit. Ensure young girls who love swimming don’t stay in their wet swimwear for long as this can also cause infections. They should also dry their genital areas thoroughly. Also teach your child as she grows up on the right way of wiping their bums (front to back) with toilet paper after passing stool.

Vaginal discharges or infections can also be a sign of sexual abuse. While it is painful for you to consider the possibility that your daughter might have been molested, it is better to find out, so she can receive both psychological and medical treatment and get protection from further abuse. Only a doctor can confirm sexual abuse.

TREATING VAGINAL DISCHARGE

In most cases of vaginal discharge and yeast infections, the doctor may prescribe a hormone cream to increase the skin’s resistance to irritation. However, depending on his diagnosis, if the discharge is due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Fortunately, treatment for vaginal infections in children is normally safe and effective.

Give your child plain, unsweetened yoghurt as this reduces yeast infection. A good diet also inhibits yeast overgrowth. Include whole grains and vegetables in your child’s diet and cut back on fatty foods and sugars. Add garlic, which is a natural antifungal, to your child’s food if she is of age. It helps to control yeast infection in children but when you have concerns, always consult a doctor.

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