Thrush is a fungal infection that can infect both the breastfeeding mother and her baby. It is already known that with thrush breastfeeding can be affected due to the discomfort that it may bring, but a lot of mothers worry if they can continue nursing while they are having this condition. So for mothers who have the same concern, here are some essential things to know and consider about thrush and breastfeeding.
What is nipple thrush?
Thrush is a common problem associated with breastfeeding. It is caused by the over-proliferation of a family of fungi called Candida. Candida is commonly found in certain areas of our skin, in the digestive tract, and in the vaginal area. However, some conditions make it favorable for these microorganisms to quickly increase in number and cause an infection. Such conditions include prolonged antibiotic therapy, taking asthma medications or contraceptives, and the presence of cracks on the nipples.
While breastfeeding, the nipples and their surrounding areas are often moist and warm, making it highly convenient for the yeast to thrive. The common signs of thrush in breast and nipples are:
- Itchy or burning sensation in the nipples.
- Scaly and shiny skin on the nipples and areola.
- Painful breastfeeding, but without lumps or red areas in the breast.
- The pain is felt on both nipples or breasts and may last until an hour after feeding.
- The pain is sudden and was not experienced before.
In breastfeeding mothers, the symptoms often appear on the nipples and may also scatter on the creases under the breasts and even under the arms. Mothers with thrush on their private area are also more likely to get nipple thrush or breast yeast infection.
It is also important to note that breastfeeding pain is not always caused by thrush. If you experience fever, pain affecting only one breast, nipple pain since the first day of breastfeeding, lumps and hot areas in the breast, or nipples that appear blanched and deformed, it is more likely due to other causes like a bacterial infection, clogged milk ducts, or improper positioning.
Can I still breastfeed if I have thrush?
According to experts, thrush while breastfeeding can be treated as the mother continues to nurse her baby. The treatment for thrush is preferably given in the form of water-soluble creams that can quickly be absorbed by the skin after application. For severe cases, oral anti-fungal medications that are compatible with nursing may also be prescribed. For mothers who are enduring extreme discomfort, doctors may also give pain medications to make sure that the breastfeeding relationship is kept while the treatment is going on.
The treatment for thrush may take a while and the symptoms may not instantly disappear. So while treating the nipple thrush breastfeeding mothers may consider these helpful tips to make sure their babies are safe and feeding well:
- Apply the cream after breastfeeding.
This is often recommended to maximize skin absorption and minimize the chances that the medication will end up on your baby’s mouth. Oftentimes, topical medications are advised to be applied after the nursing session when your baby is most likely to sleep thereafter.
- Observe proper hygiene.
Wash your hands with soap and water before and after breastfeeding, applying the medication to your nipples, and changing your baby’s diaper. It would also help to keep your body clean and dry. You may use clean water to rinse your nipples after breastfeeding and allow them to naturally dry with the air. Have a separate towel to prevent transmitting the fungi to your baby and other members of the family.
- Short, frequent feedings while the pain lasts
While the medications are taking their time to take effect, you may find it easier to breastfeed for brief periods of time at more frequent intervals. You can begin nursing on the less painful side first to make sure your baby gets enough milk.
- Using crushed ice for pain relief
Applying crushed ice on the nipple and surrounding areas has helped some mothers to numb the painful areas and breastfeed more comfortably.
- Be careful in using breast pads.
It is better to avoid using breast pads during the course of treatment since they can add up moisture and make it more likely for the fungi to thrive. Should you need to use them, change your breast pads frequently with a clean and dry one.
- Wash your nursing items using hot water.
The fungi causing thrush can infect others through their spores that can live on your clothing or belongings, especially those that have direct contact with the infected areas. Washing your nursing bras, breast pads, towels, and breast pumps in hot water and drying them under the sun can help kill these spores.
- Try out natural remedies for nipple thrush.
Some mothers find relief in rinsing their nipples with an apple cider vinegar solution or baking soda solution after breastfeeding.
For the vinegar solution, incorporate 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of water. You can also use a baking soda rinse by mixing 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of water.
Dip a cotton ball and apply it to the infected area. Don’t forget to use a fresh mixture every day to prevent contamination. You can try out these home remedies in addition and not replace your medications.
- Limiting consumption of products high in yeast, sugar, and dairy.
For some women, avoiding products that are high in yeast, sugar and dairy helped their symptoms get better more quickly.
- Be cautious in storing expressed breast milk
The fungi can live in frozen breast milk. So if you’re pumping your breast milk, make sure you properly label and separate those that are expressed while you are undergoing the treatment for thrush. You may consider discarding this breast milk after the course of treatment because they may cause the infection to recur.
Can breastfed babies get thrush?
According to experts, bottle-fed babies are more prone to getting oral thrush, however, breastfed babies may also be infected especially if their mothers have a nipple yeast infection.
Thrush spread very quickly, so if you have nipple thrush, it is highly likely for your baby to get oral thrush as well. Thrush in breastfed babies often infects their mouth, but it can also spread in other areas of their body, including their buttocks.
For thrush in breastfed babies symptoms include:
- Unusual white patches in the baby’s mouth, inner cheeks, tongue, and inner lips
- The white coating cannot be easily wiped off with a cloth and may sometimes bleed
- Decreased sucking
- Discomfort while feeding
- Sometimes, accompanied by diaper rash that won’t heal
Take note that the white patches of oral thrush are entirely different from the typical milk curds in an infant’s tongue. If the white coating can be wiped or rinsed off easily, it is less likely to be caused by thrush. Babies on a milk diet normally have a white-coated tongue that can be cleaned every day and this will usually go away as your baby begins eating solid foods.
My baby has thrush, should I stop breastfeeding?
For your infant oral thrush can be very disturbing and this can affect his usual breastfeeding pattern. However, this condition isn’t a reason to stop breastfeeding. The treatment for oral thrush is available and there are plenty of ways to keep your breastfeeding relationship whilst taking the course of medication.
If you feel that your baby shows symptoms of oral thrush, consult your pediatrician immediately. After confirming that the symptoms are caused by this fungal infection, the doctor will give your infant oral thrush treatment in the form of oral gels or liquids. These anti-fungal medications are proven to be safe for your baby and will help relieve the symptoms effectively.
Similarly, proper hygiene practices are important in preventing the spread of your baby’s thrush to other areas of his body and to the rest of your family members. You may find the following tips beneficial while your baby’s thrush is being treated:
- Make sure you wash your hands and your baby’s hands frequently especially after touching the infected areas.
- Clean and sterilize your baby’s belongings, especially those that get in contact with his mouth.
- Pacifiers, toothbrush, and medicine droppers can harbor the fungi so it is best to replace them frequently and after your baby gets well.
Additionally, you may find these home remedies helpful in reducing your baby’s oral thrush.
Thrush while breastfeeding is a common problem and can affect you and your baby. Either way, this condition shouldn’t be a reason to quit breastfeeding. The symptoms may be quite discomforting but rest assured that help is widely available. With proper treatment and support, you can surely continue breastfeeding with thrush and get better soon!
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.