5 common baby genital health problems

Our experts guide you through the most common genital health issues for little girls and boys. By Lynne Gidish

Baby genital health problems


“Always wipe from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria from your baby girl’s anus to her vagina. Set her up for a lifetime of good genital health by teaching her to do this once she’s potty trained. Never use bath oils or scented bubble bath – only use pH-balanced soap,” advises Dr Bronwyn Moore, a gynaecologist at Netcare Park Lane Hospital.

Vaginal thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of candida, which is naturally found on the skin or in the gut.


  • Swelling, redness, itchiness and vaginal discharge.
  • White or yellowish thrush patches may also be visible in your baby’s mouth.


There are several factors that can cause the overgrowth of candida, such as a pH imbalance. Children who are breastfed 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.


  • Use gentle pH-balanced products. Some nappy-free time may also assist in preventing thrush.

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.


  • Redness and itching in the area.
  • Pain and/or burning in the vagina.
  • Peeling skin.
  • Vaginal discharge.


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.

Call you 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 more 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 reach the bladder more easily. 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.

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

ALSO SEE: How to care for your baby’s genitals


“When your son is older, teach him how to take care of his foreskin and penis. Each time he cleans himself, he should gently pull the foreskin back, clean and dry the skin underneath it, and then return it to its normal place,” says Dr Natasha Padayachee-Govender, paediatrician at Life Fourways Hospital.

ALSO SEE: The facts about circumcision


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.


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.
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.


  • Redness, pain and swelling of the tip of the penis during urination, which is for a short duration.
  • White lumps under the foreskin.


Foreskin infection can be caused by not changing nappies often enough, soap residue and trying to pull back the foreskin too early.


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.

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
  • 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.

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


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