Thrush Symptoms & Treatment

Thrush and Breastfeeding

What is thrush?

Thrush or Candidiasis is a yeast infection. The infection is caused by Candida albicans, which is an organism. This organism is naturally found in the urinary tract, the gut and even on the skin. In some situations, this organism may overgrow, causing thrush symptoms to appear.

A breastfeeding thrush / yeast infection may appear:

  • On the skin of the mother's breasts.
  • Inside the breast ducts.
  • Inside the baby’s mouth.
  • On the baby’s bottom, in the form of a diaper rash. 

Is thrush contagious?

Yes, yeast infection is contagious. The mother may also be suffering from a vaginal yeast infection. The father and baby may have a yeast infection without any visible symptoms. It is important that all three get treated for thrush, so that they do not keep re-infecting each other.

Items that have been touched, such as artificial nipples, pacifiers or anything else that your baby has had in the mouth or that have been near the breasts or nether regions, needs to be sterilized, to kill the yeast and prevent re-infection. 

Thrush Symptoms

  • A sudden onset of symptoms immediately after breastfeeding, without problems before. 
  • Symptoms of thrush may include a deep burning pain inside the breast and/or on the skin of the breast.
  • Pain during a breastfeeding session, which does not subside while your baby is breastfeeding; even if the latch and positioning are fine. 
  • Itching on the nipple, areolae and skin of the breast. 
  • Pink or red colour to the nipples and/or areolae. 
  • There might be a slight shine to the nipples and areolae. 
  • The skin on the breasts, nipples and areolae may seem flaky. 
  • There may be white spots on the nipples or inside the baby’s mouth. 
  • A shooting 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. 
  • A vaginal yeast infection; vaginal thrush symptoms include itching, discharge and strange odor. 
  • Diaper rash or spots on your baby’s bum. 
  • Thrush in infants may cause excessive fussiness and breast refusal. 

 What Causes Thrush?

What increases your risk of getting thrush?

  • Antibiotics are one of the leading causes of thrush in mothers who have had a c-section or women who were given antibiotics in labor; to combat group B streptococcus. These antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria, which causes a yeast overgrowth. 
  • Mothers who have a history of vaginal yeast infections, may be at higher risk of yeast infections while breastfeeding. 
  • Mothers who have diabetes, are at higher risk of yeast infections in general. 
  • Mothers who have open cracks in their nipples, are at greater risk. 
  • A mother should keep her nipples dry. Wearing wet clothing or damp nursing pads for long periods of time, can increase risk of thrush. 
  • The use of pacifiers can increase the risk of thrush. 
  • Douching or the use of antibacterial soaps can increase thrush risk, because it interferes with the body’s natural flora. 
  • A mother who is sick with the flu, or who has any impaired immune function, ( Infection or Anemia ) may be at increased risk of thrush. 
  • A mother who is malnourished, especially who is deficient in vitamin A, B, C and K, Iron and Folic acid. 
  • Mothers who consume large amounts of dairy, sugar and/or artificial sweeteners are also more prone to yeast infections. 
  • The use of the pill (oral contraceptives) that contain Estrogen, can increase risk. 
  • The use of Corticosteroids, such as those used for asthma, will also increase the risk of thrush. 

Medication for Thrush Treatment & Home Remedies for Thrush

  • A doctor can prescribe oral and/or topical antifungals. The mother and the baby should be treated together. The baby’s bottom should also be treated. Some drugs often given include: Lotrimin, Mycelex, Diflucan, Nizoral and Monistat.
  • A reliable home remedy for thrush is Gentian violet (0.5% solution), which can be found as an over-the-counter antifungal. It can be applied inside the baby’s mouth as well as on the breasts. Gentian violet for thrush can cause the skin to redden and peel, this is normal. The mother should use old clothing, as the Gentian Violet can make bad stains.
  • Eat plenty of plain yogurts that contain added live cultures. The yogurt can also be smeared on the infected areas. Use natural, organic, plain yogurt when treating thrush.
  • The mother can take Acidophilus supplements. Should contain 40 million viable units, in each supplement; taken during the infection, and for two weeks afterwards. 
  • Grapefruit seed extract can be taken three times per day. 250mg tablets. 
  • You can also have a special thrush cream mixed at your local chemist. 

Other Treatment for Thrush Infection and Tips

  • Thrush symptoms often get worse with treatment, before they improve. 
  • A mother should continue to breastfeed while she and/or her baby have thrush. 
  • The mother and her baby's hands should be washed more regularly during an infection. 
  • Any pacifiers, feeding equipment and clothing used during this time, should be boiled for 20 minutes to kill the yeast. This should be done daily. The clothing should be washed separately with 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract added to the rinse cycle. 
  • Replace wet breast pads as soon as they get damp. 
  • The mother should keep her breasts dry. Air-dry the breasts after a breastfeeding session. 
  • She should avoid eating anything containing sugar, yeast, fungus or dairy. Yeast thrives on these foods.

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Tracy Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)


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