Thrush And Breastfeeding

Thrush breastfeeding

Thrush is a condition caused by the overgrowth of the fungus Candida (C. albicans), a microorganism that normally lives inside the digestive tract. The fungus does not usually cause any problems, but certain conditions help it grow rapidly. When it does, the fungus can cause thrush, an often painful condition that potentially affects both breastfeeding mothers and their infants.

Thrush manifests as sore, itchy nipples in breastfeeding moms, which can make nursing painful. In babies it usually appears as white patches on the inside of the mouth making it difficult for babies to nurse. Babies can also develop a yeast-based diaper rash.

The conditions that promote the growth of thrush include hormonal changes, a warm moist environment and having taken antibiotics. Higher levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy have been shown to promote yeast growth. As a result, an expectant mother may have an undiagnosed yeast infection which her infant contracts while passing through the birth canal. The baby might develop oral thrush, then pass the infection back to the mother while nursing. The moist sugary nature of human breast milk also promotes the growth of fungus.

Taking antibiotics has also been suggested as a trigger for thrush, since antibiotics kill off the good bacteria and allow the fungus to grow unchecked. Mothers who used antibiotics for longer than a month are reported to have a higher incidence of thrush.

It’s important for both the mother and baby to be treated because they can easily reinfect each other. Your healthcare provider will probably prescribe an antifungal cream for your nipples, with the treatment usually lasting a week or two. Pain medication may also be recommended. The healthcare provider will also prescribe medication for your infant. If the baby has a yeast diaper infection, you may get a fungal cream medication.

It takes a few days for the treatment to begin to work and the symptoms may even seem worse for those few days. It’s important to remain on the treatment plan.

To prevent the spread of thrush, there are a few more steps you can take.

  • Rinse your nipples and let them air dry after every feeding. You can use a solution of one tablespoon of vinegar in a cup of water and dry with disposable cotton balls.
  • If your baby uses a pacifier, boil it every day and get a new one every week. Wash anything that comes in contact with baby’s mouth in hot soapy water.
  • Disinfect breast pump parts that come in contact with milk.
  • Wash bras, bra pads and nightgowns in hot water and dry on a high temperature or dy in the sun.
  • Wash your hands after diaper changes.

With a course of medication and extra attention to hygiene, the condition can usually be resolved in a couple of weeks. Be sure to discuss all breastfeeding problems with your healthcare provider.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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