Breastfeeding and thrush: What you need to know
Thrush is a yeast infection specific to mucus membranes, such as a baby's mouth and her mom's nipples. However, identifying thrush can be a bit tricky.
Thrush is a fungus called Candida albicans, which invades the lining of the mouth. It is also known simply as yeast, which is the culprit behind other miserable infections, such as the traditional yeast infection and athlete's foot. In breastfeeding pairs, it can affect not only Baby’s mouth, but Mom’s nipples as well, resulting in pain for both.
Not every breastfeeding pair experiences thrush, but if you do, you won’t forget it. Thrush can be brought on by antibiotic use in either Baby or Mom, as well as by a number of other factors. Since you nurse your baby often, it can be passed back and forth very quickly and easily, making it essential to treat both people.
We talked to several moms to find out what having thrush is really like, and truth be told, it doesn’t sound fun. There are a number of different ways these moms tried to get rid of it — some had success with natural remedies, but others had to turn to medication to boot thrush from their lives for good.
One mom, Star, experienced thrush recently and had success with a unique remedy, gentian violet, that actually makes you and Baby turn purple. “We had thrush this past summer,” she explained. “I used gentian violet on my nipple and had her nurse. It worked great. She didn't stay purple too long.”
“It’s awful,” said Jackee, mom of one, of thrush. “I have suffered from thrush multiple times. It felt like a cross between pinching and burning when Piper would latch and it would take my breath away. My nipples would become bright pink and itchy. It's so hard to get rid of and the only thing that worked for me was cutting out sugars, washing my bras in hot water and hanging them in the sunlight (difficult to do in Vancouver when the sun hides for days!) and using a cream the doctor prescribed.”
“My oldest daughter had gotten thrush after being on antibiotics and then I got it on my nipples,” shared a mom of three from Ohio. “It was a very painful, burning sensation and it hurt when she would latch. I ended up getting strep throat and had to take antibiotics as well. It was a mess. I tried going the natural route, using gentian violet and doing a vinegar and water wash. I wound up agitating the thrush and I honestly think I made it worse. Baby was on Nystatin for what seemed like weeks and I ended up taking a ton of Diflucan pills.”
Heather from Missouri has experienced thrush with each child she’s breastfed after getting antibiotics during labor for group B strep. “At first, it just felt like a mild tingle,” she explained. “Not even when I was nursing, but before my milk supply got steady and I would have letdown. That was my first symptom. When Baby would latch, there would be a stinging sensation for the first few seconds. Also a 'raw' feeling. Not fun. The first time, I didn't know what it was and thought that maybe it was normal. Eventually, it got to where it just plain burned. Ouch!”
Getting it checked out
Babies with thrush often present with white patches on their gums or along the insides of their cheeks, but moms often don’t have any outward signs — just pain and discomfort. If you suspect thrush, get it checked out as soon as you can, as it doesn’t often go away without treatment. Make sure you both get treated, because treating just one member of the breastfeeding pair leaves reinfection as a distinct possibility.