Candida albicans. Also known as “thrush” when referring to baby and “yeast infection” when referring to moms. No matter what you call it, and we’ve called it almost every name in the book, it can be stubborn and painful. But we have some relief – and a few possible ways to prevent thrush altogether.
What is Thrush and How Do You Get It?
Thrush happens when there is an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans (yeast) in the body, either yours or baby’s. The resulting yeast infection can be easily transferred between a breastfeeding mom and baby.
You’re at a higher risk of being patient zero if you recently took antibiotics because, as many women are familiar with, antibiotics can deplete good bacteria that controls naturally occurring yeast in our bodies. Other breastfeeding moms at higher risk of developing a yeast infection are those who have diabetes or are anemic.
Baby can also be the carrier, though it’s not as clear what activates the infection in some babies’ mouths and not others. One way they can pass it to you is through cracked nipples. Wearing damp breast pads or bras also offers an introductory breeding ground.
The Blush of Thrush: Signs and Symptoms
For mom, the signs of a yeast infection on the nipple may be subtle or very painful. Look for the any of the following symptoms:
- Bright pink nipples with a reddened areola
- Tender, itchy, damp, or burning nipples
- Shooting pain in nipple and breast during or right after feeding*
- Deep pain in the breast
- Cracked nipples that are slow to, or won’t, heal
- Vaginal yeast infection
*Research has not definitively shown that the shooting pain is associated with yeast infection. Talk to your doctor if you have pain during breastfeeding – it may be from other causes.
For baby, it’s more consistent. Symptoms of thrush in babies include:
- White patches on baby’s tongue, roof of their mouth, or inside cheeks that don’t rub off easily
- Diaper rash that doesn’t go away after topical cream treatment
- Skin rash with small, red spots near the edge appearing anywhere on baby’s body
- Fussy baby during and after feeding
- Baby slipping off breast or clicking during feeding
Preventing Thrush Infection or Reinfection
You and baby may both need to be seen by a doctor to be treated for thrush; sometimes it goes away with at-home treatment but left improperly treated or untreated altogether, thrush could turn into a worse infection such as plugged ducts and mastitis. Thus, it’s best for your doctor to diagnose and treat. However, preventing reinfection – or infection in the first place – is something you can do right at home.
Wash all clothes and linens that came into contact with your nipples or with baby. Use hot water with bleach and let them air dry in the sun or set the dryer on hot. Make sure you’ve sterilized and washed all parts of your breast pump that touch your nipples or breastmilk.
Toys, teethers, bottles, nipples, pacifiers – anything that baby puts in their mouth need to be washed. Sterilize what is safe to do so, put those that aren’t in the dishwasher (or in washer or hand wash).
Consider Your Diet
And baby’s diet. While you can still breastfeed baby during a thrush infection, you can’t store or freeze your milk. Cold temperatures do not kill the yeast cells you carry in your milk during a thrush infection, so it’s possible to reinfect your baby – and yourself – with stored milk pumped during infection.
For mom, adding in probiotics to your diet may help build good bacteria that manages the growth of yeast. Some moms also lower yeast and sugar intake to help maintain the body’s inner balance. Before making any changes to your diet – always check with your doctor.
Helpful Everyday Practices
Thoroughly wash your hands with hot water and soap after every diaper change and topical treatment application. It’s good practice to wash and sterilize bottle nipples and pacifiers daily but extra important when dealing with thrush.Change your bra and breast pads if-and-when they get wet and always keep your nipples as dry as possible. Avoid breast pads made with plastic liners that don’t allow air around your breasts, as they hold in moisture.
Thrush infections are flat-out difficult to deal with. But with a little diligence and lots of self care – you’ll get through to the other side of thrush.