Thrush Symptoms When Breastfeeding

Antibiotics can kill both good and bad bacteria, leading to an overgrowth of yeast. This is especially common in mothers who have had a c-section or received antibiotics during labor to treat group B streptococcus.

baby and mother
Photo by Chris Anderson / Unsplash

What Is Thrush?

Thrush, also known as candidiasis, is a type of yeast infection caused by the organism Candida albicans. This organism is naturally present in the urinary tract, gut, and skin but can sometimes grow excessively, leading to the development of thrush symptoms.

A thrush or yeast infection may occur in the following places during breastfeeding:

  • On the mother's breast skin
  • Inside the breast ducts
  • Inside the baby's mouth
  • On the baby's buttocks (diaper rash.)

Is Thrush Contagious?

Yes, thrush or yeast infections can be contagious. The mother may have a vaginal yeast infection in addition to the infection in her breasts. The father and baby may also be infected with thrush, even if they do not show any symptoms. It is important for all three individuals to receive treatment for thrush to prevent re-infection.

To prevent re-infection, it is important to sterilize items that have been in contact with the infected area, such as artificial nipples, pacifiers, or any other objects that have been in the baby's mouth or near the breasts or genital area. This will help to kill any remaining yeast and prevent further transmission.

Symptoms of Thrush

  • Sudden onset of symptoms immediately after breastfeeding, without any prior issues.
  • Deep burning pain inside the breast and/or on the breast skin during breastfeeding sessions that does not subside even with proper latch and positioning.
  • Itching on the nipple, areola, and breast skin.
  • Pink or red coloration of the nipples and/or areola.
  • Slight shininess of the nipples and areola.
  • Flaky skin on the breasts, nipples, and areola.
  • White spots on the nipples or inside the baby's mouth.
  • Pain inside the breast during or after feedings.
  • Cracked nipples that are struggling to heal.
  • Aching feeling in the shoulders or shooting pain in the upper back.
  • Vaginal yeast infection with symptoms such as itching, discharge, and abnormal odor.
  • Diaper rash or spots on the baby's buttocks.
  • Excessive fussiness and breast refusal in infants with thrush.
crying baby
Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

Thrush Causes

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing thrush:

  • Antibiotic use: Antibiotics can kill both good and bad bacteria, leading to an overgrowth of yeast. This is especially common in mothers who have had a c-section or received antibiotics during labor to treat group B streptococcus.
  • A history of vaginal yeast infections: If a mother has previously had a vaginal yeast infection, she may be more prone to developing thrush while breastfeeding because she may be more susceptible to yeast infections in general.
  • Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are more prone to developing yeast infections because high blood glucose levels can provide an ideal environment for yeast to grow.
  • Open cracks in the nipples: If a mother has cracks in her nipples, it can create an opening for yeast to enter and cause an infection.
  • Wet clothing or damp nursing pads worn for extended periods of time: Keeping the nipples moist for long periods of time can provide an ideal environment for yeast to grow, increasing the risk of thrush.
  • Pacifier use: The use of pacifiers can increase the risk of thrush in infants because they can become contaminated with yeast and then be placed in the infant's mouth.
  • Douching or using antibacterial soaps: These practices can disrupt the body's natural flora and increase the risk of thrush by eliminating beneficial bacteria that help to keep yeast in check.
  • Illness or impaired immune function: If a mother is sick with the flu or has any other infection, or if she has anemia or any other impairment of immune function, her body may be less able to fight off a yeast infection, increasing the risk of thrush.
  • Malnutrition: If a mother is malnourished, especially if she is deficient in certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B, C, and K, iron, and folic acid, her body may be less able to fight off a yeast infection, increasing the risk of thrush.
  • High intake of dairy, sugar, and/or artificial sweeteners: Consuming large amounts of these substances can increase the risk of thrush because they can provide an ideal environment for yeast to grow.
  • Use of oral contraceptives containing estrogen: The use of oral contraceptives that contain estrogen can increase the risk of thrush because estrogen can alter the body's pH balance, making it more conducive to yeast growth.
  • Use of corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, such as those used for asthma, can also increase the risk of thrush because they can suppress the immune system and make it more difficult for the body to fight off an infection.

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Thrush Treatment & Remedies

  • Thrush can be treated with both oral and topical antifungal medications prescribed by a doctor. It is important to treat both the mother and the baby together, as well as the baby's bottom. Some drugs that may be prescribed include Lotrimin, Mycelex, Diflucan, Nizoral, and Monistat.
  • Gentian violet, a 0.5% solution that can be found over the counter as an antifungal, is a reliable home remedy for thrush. It can be applied inside the baby's mouth for oral thrush and on the breasts. It may cause the skin to turn red and peel, which is normal. The mother should wear old clothing when using Gentian violet, as it can cause bad stains.
  • For the mother, eating plenty of plain yogurt with live cultures and applying it to the infected areas can also help to treat thrush. It is best to use natural, organic, plain yogurt.
  • The mother can also take Acidophilus supplements, which should contain 40 million viable units and be taken during the infection and for two weeks afterward.
  • The mother can take Grapefruit seed extract. Taken three times per day in the form of 250mg tablets, can also be helpful.
  • Thrush cream can be mixed on request at a local pharmacy.

Treatment Tips

  • It is common for thrush symptoms to worsen before they improve with treatment. The mother must continue breastfeeding while she and/or her baby have thrush.
  • To help prevent the spread of the infection, the mother and her baby's hands should be washed more frequently.
  • Any pacifiers, feeding equipment, and clothing used during this time should be boiled for 20 minutes to kill the yeast. Clothing should be washed separately with 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract added to the rinse cycle.
  • Wet breast pads should be replaced as soon as they become damp.
  • She should also avoid consuming foods containing sugar, yeast, fungus, or dairy, as yeast thrives on these substances.