Nipple thrush in breastfeeding moms

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If your nipples are sore, cracked and are in pain whenever you breastfeed, then you may have Nipple Thrush. Click here to find out more about the condition.

nipple thrush

Nipple thrush can be an unpleasant experience for breastfeeding moms.

Breastfeeding has a host of benefits for both baby and mommy. But like anything baby-related, it comes with its “highs” and “lows”. There’s plenty that has been written on the high points of breastfeeding so let’s focus on a rather common and painful issue breastfeeding moms may face — nipple thrush.

What is nipple thrush?

If you feel shooting pains in your breast while breastfeeding or if you’re nipples are itchy, shiny and red, then you might have nipple thrush.

Nipple thrush is caused by a fungus called candida albicus. According to medical professionals, this fungus thrives in warm, dark, moist areas of the body such as the mucus membranes of the mouth and vagina, baby’s diaper area, bra pads, and on continuously wet nipples.

When this fungus propagates and starts thriving on your nipples, the result is, you guessed it, nipple thrush.

nipple thrush

If you are pregnant and have a vaginal yeast infection, it’s best to get it treated immediately.

Signs and symptoms of breast and nipple thrush

Check your breasts for the following symptoms of nipple thrush:

  • Itchy or burning nipples that appear changed in colour; shiny, flaky, and/or have a rash with tiny blisters
  • Shooting pain in the breast during or after nursing
  • Intense nipple or breast pain that doesn’t improve even with better latch-on and positioning
  • Deep breast pain
  • Cracked or sensitive nipples/areolas

You can also suspect candida as the cause of your sore nipples if:

  • Your nipples suddenly become sore after a period of pain-free breastfeeding
  • You are currently on antibiotics or have just finished a course

How do you get nipple thrush and how do you treat it? Find out on the next page.

nipple thrush

Nipple thrush can be a very painful experience for breastfeeding moms.

How does a breastfeeding mom get nipple thrush?

If you are breastfeeding and your little one has oral thrush, according to the National Health Service, UK (NHS), there’s a chance the same fungus that caused it can also give you nipple thrush.

In fact, breastfeeding creates the ideal environment for candida albicus as it thrives in warm, moist, dark and sugary places such as your little one’s mouth during nursing. You also may be at higher risk for developing breast and nipple thrush if:

1. You or your baby had a recent course of antibiotics: Medical experts claim that antibiotics can reduce the number of bacteria that usually control the candida fungus.

2. You had vaginal thrush while pregnant: During pregnancy, the higher levels of estrogen and progesterone that occur encourage yeast colonisation as the pH levels of the vagina changes. Health professionals say that your little one can develop oral thrush if this is not treated and if you’ve had a natural birth. This infection can then be passed on to you during breastfeeding.

3. Your nipples are cracked or damaged: If your baby has oral thrush, the infection can easily transfer to you via cracked nipples.

4. You are taking oral contraceptives or steroids: According to Baumslag and Michels (1992), moms who take oral contraceptives containing estrogen are also more likely to experience yeast infections. Other medical professionals, such as Ruth Lawrence in Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, report a connection between long-term steroid use (such as those used for asthma or severe allergies) and yeast infections.

nipple thrush

Always seek medical advice if you suspect you have a thrush infection.

Treatment

According to the NHS,  if you do have thrush in your nipples, your doctor will normally advise you to continue breastfeeding while using an antifungal cream to treat the infection.

La Leche League International (LLLI) lactation experts say that treatment may be given four times a day or after each nursing session. It is also advisable to continue the treatment for two weeks after your symptoms have disappeared. Keep in mind that the symptoms may seem to get worse for a few days after treatment begins, following which you should start feeling better.

How can you prevent getting breast and nipple thrush? Find out on the next page. 

Prevention tips for breast and nipple thrush

nipple thrush

As painful as it may be, it’s important to continue breastfeeding while you have nipple thrush to prevent engorgement and potentially mastitis.

Breast and nipple thrush, once contracted, can be quite tough to get rid of and may be very uncomfortable and painful. Because of this, it is best to arm yourself with information on how to avoid it in the first place.

Here are some great tips from LLLI and Dr. Sears on preventing nipple thrush:

  • To better cope with the pain, offer your baby short, frequent feeds, starting on the side that hurts the least. Yes, nursing your baby with this condition can be terribly painful. But it’s really important that you empty your breasts regularly to prevent a condition like mastitis from setting in.
  • If your baby uses a pacifier or bottle nipple, you should boil it for 20 minutes a day and replace it each week.
  • Avoid plastic lined breast-pads that could trap leaked milk and moisture. Remember to change your breast pads after each feed.
  • If you are pumping, thoroughly sterilize all breast pump parts that come in contact with milk.
nipple thrush

Regularly sterilize all parts of your breast pump that come into contact with your nipples and breasts.

  • Do not freeze breastmilk you pump during an outbreak of thrush. Freezing breastmilk does not kill the yeast in it.
  • Any toys that go into your baby’s mouth should be washed well with hot, soapy water.
  • Eating yoghurt that contains live active cultures or taking oral acidophilus aids in preventing the growth of yeast.
  • Wash all items of clothing that come into contact with your nipples in hot water and dry well under the sun. Yeast organisms hate sunlight, so expose your breasts and nipples to sunlight too, for a few minutes several times a day.
  • Rinsing your nipples with a solution of vinegar and water (one tablespoon vinegar to one cup water) after every feed helps. Use a fresh cotton ball for each application and make a new solution every day. Remember to let your nipples air dry after each application.
  • You may find that reducing yeast and sugar in your diet during a thrush outbreak helps.

If you suspect you have nipple thrush, consult your doctor without delay. He can assess your situation and decide on the best course of treatment. Be vigilant about taking the prescribed medication for as long as the doctor asks you to in order to completely and effectively eliminate the thrush infection.

References

Baumslag, N., Michels, D, A Woman’s Guide to Yeast Infections. New York: Pocket Books, 1992.

Lawrence, R. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, 4th edition. St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Company, 1994.

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