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Yeast infections are a common problem for nursing moms. It is one of the causes of nipple pain while breastfeeding.
Painful breastfeeding is one of the most common reasons moms give for weaning early (Source). If feeding your baby is painful due to thrush, you will want to find a fast and effective treatment for thrush during breastfeeding.
Thrush and yeast both refer to an infection caused by the fungus Candida Albicans. I will be using these two terms interchangeably.
WHERE CAN YOU GET THRUSH?
Yeast grows in our bodies normally. It becomes a problem when it overgrows. Overgrowth of yeast causes itching and pain.
Yeast overgrowth causes problems with breastfeeding when it occurs in specific areas.
- Breastfeeding mom’s Nipples
- Milk Ducts in the breast
WHAT DOES NIPPLE THRUSH FEEL LIKE?
- Your nipples might burn or sting.
- You may have shooting, stabbing pains from your nipples through your breasts.
WHAT DOES THRUSH ON NIPPLES LOOK LIKE?
Your nipples may be bright pink. They may be shiny or have a flaky appearance. The nipple may have a white area on it (but look different than a bleb).
Nipples can also look perfectly normal during a yeast infection.
Moms have told me how incredibly frustrating it was to have their health care provider look at their breasts and say, “It doesn’t look like yeast to me.”
A yeast infection can be challenging to diagnose. If the nipples look normal, then it is essential to rule out other possible causes of pain.
IF I HAVE THRUSH CAN MY BABY GET IT?
A common question moms with a nipple yeast infection have is, “Can you give your baby thrush while breastfeeding?”
Yes, thrush is contagious. Not only can you give it to your baby. If your baby has thrush, he can give it to you.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ORAL THRUSH IN BABIES
Your baby can have thrush in his mouth. Babies can also have thrush in their diaper area. The diaper area will have a red, raised rash.
If you Google nipple, oral, or diaper thrush and look at the images, you’ll get lots of examples. Be forewarned though, some of the diaper thrush pictures made even this nurse cringe.
I never recommend a mom try to diagnose her baby’s rashes. If your little one has a rash, I encourage you to take him to his health care provider.
Thrush in the mouth will be white patches on the cheeks or palate and a white tongue
Having a whitish tongue isn’t uncommon in babies who only drink milk. I call it milk tongue, which is different than thrush. With thrush, there will usually be white patches in places other than his tongue. The white patches won’t wipe away.
The worst case of thrush in a baby’s mouth that I ever saw looked like a little white rug on the baby’s tongue.
When a baby has oral thrush they are often fussy because it can cause discomfort for them.
WHAT CAUSES YEAST INFECTIONS
Certain things can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection.
- Moms who have a history of repeated vaginal yeast infections have a higher chance of getting a yeast infection in their nipples.
- As mentioned before, you and your baby can give each other thrush. For this reason, many lactation consultants recommend treating both mom and baby simultaneously, even if only one of you has a diagnosed case. Treating both mom and baby is recommended even when one of them has no symptoms.
- Taking antibiotics put a mom at higher risk of developing a yeast infection.
- Nipples that are kept in a warm, wet environment are more likely to become overgorrwn with yeast. Think of a milk-soaked bra pad. Yeast loves sugar, and there is lots of sugar in breastmilk.
- Diabetic moms have a higher incidence of yeast infections. This is due to high blood sugar levels (Source).
- A diet high in sugars puts a mom who is prone to yeast infections at higher risk.
TREATMENTS FOR THRUSH
Gentian Violet Treatment For Thrush
Gentian Violet is a purple dye that is an antifungal and can kill bacteria. Gentian Violet can often provide a full cure for nipple thrush.
It’s available without a prescription. However, it may be kept behind the counter. You’ll have to ask for it.
Gentian Violet is hard to find where I live. For that reason, I recommend you call the store or pharmacy first to see if they carry it. This will save you a wasted trip or from driving all over.
Gentian Violet Precautions
- Be sure to ask for a 0.5% – 1% strength. It is easier to find 2% preparations, but that would be too strong to put on your nipples. It could cause the skin to break down. You don’t want the cure to be worse than the problem.
You can order Gentian Violet from Amazon if you are unable to find it close by.
Gentian Violet is messy and stains everything it comes in contact with, including your baby’s mouth. It will go away, but it will look like you’ve been feeding him blueberry pie. If someone asks why his mouth looks like that, say, “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but he ate our Smurf.” Then look guilty and say, “Is that bad?”
- Use disposable bra pads to protect your clothing. Lansinoh bra pads are highly rated on Amazon. They are nice because they are contoured and have adhesive strips to help keep them in place.
- Apply the Gentian Violet once a day and no more.
- Use it for no longer than seven days. Gentian Violet is not the type of stuff where if some is good, then more is better. Too much can break down the tissue, and then you have a whole new problem.
Antifungal Ointment Treatments For Thrush
- Nystatin is a prescription treatment that is frequently used.
- It is available as an ointment for mom and oral drops for baby.
- It can cure a yeast infection, but seems to work about as often as it doesn’t (Source).
- Miconazole is an effective antifungal available with a prescription.
Oral Medications Used to Treat Yeast Infections
If topical treatments don’t work, Diflucan, (generic name fluconazole), should do the trick. Diflucan is an antifungal medication that is taken orally. It requires a prescription from your healthcare provider. It is usually effective if given in the proper dosage and duration for this type of yeast. It requires a higher loading dose than a vaginal yeast infection does, and you have to take it for a more extended period of time.
While not a cure, Probiotics can help restore the normal balance of yeast in the body (Source).
I use Jarrow Probiotics. They do not require refrigeration.
Vinegar Treatment For Yeast
Vinegar is a natural remedy for thrush (Source).
- Add one tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of water.
- Soak cotton balls in the solution and apply the cotton balls to your nipples for twenty minutes.
- Do this four times a day.
CONDITIONS THAT CAUSE NIPPLE PAIN MISTAKEN FOR THRUSH
There are other medical conditions that cause nipple pain. They can lead to a mistaken diagnosis of a yeast infection.
- Staph infection
- Raynaud’s Syndrome
- Mammary Constriction Syndrome
YEAST INFECTION PRECAUTIONS DURING AN ACTIVE INFECTION
It will help get rid of the yeast if you sanitize anything that comes in contact with your baby’s mouth or your breasts every 24 hours.
- Bottles, nipples, and pacifiers.
- If your baby is older and putting toys or teethers in their mouth, those count too
- Pump parts
- Bras, tank tops or anything that milk has leaked on to
- During a yeast infection I recommend disposable nursing pads . Change them frequently.
- If you absolutely hate disposable pads, just make sure that you change the cloth pads often. Wash them along with the bras and any other clothing in hot water before reusing.
- Don’t wear a bra or tank top for any longer than one day.
- If you leak a lot when you sleep put a towel on top of your bed sheet. Wash that in hot water after 24 hours.
- Good handwashing!
- It is not recommended that you freeze any breast milk that you might collect during a yeast infection. If you pump make sure you use up any milk within 24 hours.
- While there has never been a documented case of yeast causing an infection this way, freezing does not kill yeast.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THRUSH TREATMENT WHILE BREASTFEEDING
There is no doubt that a case of thrush when you are breastfeeding can be miserable. But like most breastfeeding problems, it is temporary. With proper treatment for a yeast infection you should be back to a happy breastfeeding experience quickly!
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.