Breastfeeding with thrush is no fun, and if you’ve ever done it you’d probably agree.
You might start to notice white spots in your baby’s mouth or your nipples may look pink, shiny and flaky. Sometimes your baby will be in pain while breastfeeding with thrush.
It’s a problem that generally won’t go away on its own, so here’s what you need to do about it.
What Is Thrush?
Thrush is a yeast infection, caused by a yeast called Candida. Candida is actually a natural bacteria found in generally healthy levels all over your body.
When you start experiencing infection symptoms, it’s because the natural balance of your body’s flora is disrupted. The Candida starts to multiply and overgrows- it outnumbers the other good bacteria and brings with it uncomfortable infection symptoms.
When you’re breastfeeding, any number of things can cause thrush to develop in either you or your baby. If one of you contracts thrush, it’s likely the other will too because it’s easily passed from one person to another. Yeast loves dark, warm, moist places so your baby’s mouth is the perfect place for it to thrive.
Signs And Symptoms Of Thrush While Breastfeeding
Thrush has some pretty specific symptoms for both you and your baby, so pay attention if you notice any of these things:
Mommy Signs & Symptoms
Nipple Changes. Your nipples will probably look red or pink. They will be shiny, flaky, possibly cracked and painful. Nipple changes can be a sign of other problems so thrush generally has other symptoms alongside it. But shiny, red, and flaky nipples are the primary symptoms.
Painful Feedings. Be aware that painful feedings aren’t a sign in themselves that you have thrush. Painful feedings generally are combined with other symptoms. If you do have thrush, you will probably have pain while your baby feeds. Some women describe it as a shooting, itching or burning pain.
Vaginal Yeast Infection. You might have a yeast infection in other parts of your body. A yeast overgrowth can be triggered after antibiotics are administered during labor. The reason is because it kills other good bacteria in your body and allows the Candida to overgrow. Candida can be found in other parts of your body than just your breasts, so having a yeast infection elsewhere is also a sign.
Baby Signs & Symptoms
White Spots In Their Mouth. If your baby has thrush, this is one of the most obvious signs. Your baby will have white patches in their mouth that cannot be rubbed off. These patches can be painful for your baby.
Pain While Breastfeeding. When your baby tries to breastfeed (or bottle feed), they may be in a lot of pain. The white patches can be extremely painful when they are moving their tongue and mouth during a feeding. They may fuss or cry during a feeding. Some babies feel a lot of pain, while some don’t seem to have any pain so if your baby doesn’t fuss, they still might have thrush.
Thrush In Their Diaper. Just like you, your baby might have signs of a yeast infection in other parts of their body. You’ll see this when you change their diaper. Usually, thrush is concentrated in the folds… because yeast likes moist, dark, warm places. It’ll be red and maybe bumpy.
One thing to be aware of is that one of you might have symptoms while the other doesn’t… but you probably still have it! Even if you don’t have symptoms, you can still pass thrush back and forth to each other.
Treatment – Breastfeeding With Thrush
The most important thing is to see your doctor. You will most likely need a prescription for an antifungal to help get rid of the yeast infection. Your doctor may prescribe you a topical antifungal to apply to your breasts after each nursing session, or suggest using an over the counter antifungal. Some doctors will also prescribe an oral antifungal. Seek your doctor’s advice, and follow their recommendation for treatment.
Here are some other things you can do treat the thrush and prevent it from getting worse:
- Use An Antifungal. Your doctor will likely prescribe you an antifungal. Usually they’re topical, which means you put it on your skin and in your baby’s mouth. Follow your doctors instructions, and apply the medicine after feedings. Be sure to finish the treatment for the prescribed amount of time. It can take up to two weeks for the thrush to completely go away.
- Use Vinegar. Vinegar is acidic and works to prevent the yeast from growing. You can use a 1-1 ratio of vinegar to water and apply it to your nipples after breastfeeding to prevent growth (then follow with the antifungal). If you pump or give your baby a pacifier, rinse the pump parts and pacifier in vinegar after thoroughly washing them. You can even use it to disinfect your sink and counter tops or wash your hands!
- Sterilize. It’s extremely important to sterilize and clean anything and everything that comes into contact with your breasts and your baby’s mouth. That includes teethers, pacifiers, blankies or stuffies, breast pump parts, and even your bra. Be sure to thoroughly and frequently clean anything that touches your baby’s mouth, your breasts, or your breast milk. Use hot soap and water, wash fabrics on HOT in the washing machine, and boil pump parts, bottles and pacifiers in a large pot daily for ten minutes. Wash your hands often especially after feedings and diaper changes.
- Boil Your Breast Milk. If you are pumping and storing your breast milk, boil it before giving it to your baby. Label bags of breast milk before freezing them and boil the milk after thawing. If you’re breastfeeding, there’s no reason to stop because you and your baby will both recover from the thrush simultaneously with antifungals.
- Keep Your Nipples Dry. Candida loves wet, warm and moist places. So, make sure that you keep your nipples dry between feedings. Change any breast pads after they become wet. This will help prevent growth and spread of thrush and help you get back to normal faster.
- Reduce Sugar Intake. Yeast thrives on sugar, so it may be helpful to reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Some moms swear that reducing their sugar intake helps them get rid of thrush easier. You can also try limiting dairy products and anything that contains yeast (like bread).
Is It Thrush?
White patches in a baby’s mouth are pretty unmistakable for thrush. If your baby doesn’t have symptoms and you do, there’s a possibility that what you’re experiencing isn’t thrush. In this case, it may help to reach out to your doctor or a lactation consultant to determine what’s causing your symptoms.
Follow the instructions above and you should start to see relief from thrush in 2 weeks. Candida, normally found in and on your body, can make thrush difficult to resolve. Keep in close contact with your doctor and be diligent with washing and sanitizing!
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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