Most breastfeeding mothers are aware of the potential for developing blocked milk ducts or mastitis. But have you heard of their equally annoying cousin nipple thrush? Yup, sorry to say but it’s definitely a thing.
Nipple thrush is caused by a yeast called candida. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same nasty little fungus that causes genital and oral thrush. It’s normal to have small amounts of this fungus in various places around the body but, when the conditions are right, candida multiplies and this is what causes thrush or candidiasis.
There’s so much going on with your boobs when you’re breastfeeding, it can often be hard to tell what’s normal and what isn’t.
Signs that you might have nipple thrush
- Red, cracked nipples
- Itchy and flaky skin on the nipple and the areola (the coloured part directly around your nipple)
- A painful sensation deep within your breasts, even in between feedings. This is usually described as a stabbing pain
- Sometimes a fine white rash may also be present on and around your nipple
The really sneaky thing about nipple thrush is, that your bub is probably also going to get it. During feeding, the candida yeast will be given direct access to their mouth.
Unfortunately, even though they may not exhibit symptoms, your little one will most likely get oral thrush. Occasionally they will also get a thrush infection in their bottom. If you’re not sure whether you have nipple thrush you can also check your baby’s mouth and nappy area.
Signs that baby has thrush
- A thick white coating on their tongue and/or white spots inside their mouth
- A bright red, spotty rash on their bottom which nappy or antifungal cream doesn’t help
How to prevent getting nipple thrush
Rest assured though thrush is very treatable for both you and bub. If you already are suffering, you’ll need to go and see your GP to get some suitable medication. If you’ve had it before or want to try and avoid ever knowing any more about it, here are some things you can do to help manage and reduce the future risk of nipple thrush.
Change your breast pads frequently
Candida loves a damp, warm environment. Unfortunately, breast pads create this environment perfectly. Make sure you are changing your breast pads frequently. If you are using reusable pads, wash them on a high heat wash.
If possible, it also never hurts to go bra-free occasionally. Many women find feeding in the early days a lot easier if they can do so completely topless. This also gives your breasts and nipples the chance to dry naturally in the fresh air.
Wash, wash, wash
Anything to do with feeding or pooping should ideally be washed as frequently as possible and on a hot wash cycle. If you’re really concerned you can also consider adding white vinegar, or a specialised anti-fungal detergent to your washing machine.
And then wash some more
You’ll also want to be particularly mindful when it comes to cleaning anything that your little one puts in their mouth – think favourite dummies, toys, baby’s feeding bottles and even teething rings.
Thrush can survive on surfaces so it’s important that everything is washed thoroughly to prevent reinfection. Hot soapy water is always best. Sterilising where possible is also an excellent idea.
You’re probably already washing your hands five thousand times a day but this is also very important. Particularly if you do already have nipple thrush and are applying any medicated creams to your breasts or to your baby.
Sharing is not always caring
Make sure you’re not sharing towels, face washers, or other toiletries such as toothbrushes between family members. If you have multiple children, you’ll also need to make sure they don’t share sippy cups or their cutlery.
Cut back on sugar
You’re sleep-deprived and sugar may be life to you right now but some women find that reducing sugar and yeast in their diet also reduces their incidences of thrush infections.
Take a good probiotic
The medical jury is a little bit out on this one still but some mums find that taking a regular probiotic helps them keep thrush under control.
Some studies have also indicated that a lowered immune system can encourage an overgrowth of the candida yeast. Because of this, there are suggestions that immune-boosting supplements like grapefruit seed extract, garlic, zinc and B vitamins can be helpful in preventing further infections.
Just don’t forget that it’s always worth checking with your doctor before taking any supplements while breastfeeding.
Remember thrush can be persistent
If you have had issues with nipple thrush in the past, or are finding that you just can’t get on top of the infection, make sure you go back to your doctor. Because candida is always present on your body and is so easily transferred to other things, it can be quite tricky to get rid of. Your GP may need to prescribe a combination of different treatment methods to clear your thrush up completely.
It might not just be thrush
There are a number of different issues which can cause similar pain to that of nipple thrush. Think along the lines of eczema, bacterial infections, nipple vasospasm or just a poor breastfeeding latch from your bub. If you feel your condition has improved but you are still experiencing pain, or you’re just not sure if it’s thrush or something else, make sure you check in with your GP, midwife or lactation consultant for further advice.
Don’t forget that taking care of your baby also involves taking care of yourself. It can be hard to find the time in the whirlwind that is parenting but self-care is always a good idea.