What is thrush?

Thrush, a type of yeast infection, can cause discomfort for nursing moms and their babies. Our resident IBCLC, Katie McGee, explains what thrush is and how to spot early symptoms, plus tips to help reduce your risk

Most women recognize the signs of a vaginal yeast infection, but many don’t know that cracked nipples or white patches on their baby’s lips or gums may indicate another type of yeast infection better known as “thrush.”

Candida albicans is a type of commonly-occurring gut flora that can be found in 40-60% of healthy adults and is mostly harmless. But a change in the body’s pH balance can cause an overgrowth of this microbe, leading to a yeast infection that can affect many parts of the body. Breastfeeding can create a perfect environment where yeast infections flourish. Here’s what you need to know to recognize warning signs and reduce your risk.

Understanding and Preventing Thrush

Who’s most at risk?

Mothers who are prone to vaginal yeast infections, and mothers or babies who received antibiotics, are predisposed to pH imbalance, a precursor to yeast infections in moms that can cause oral thrush in babies. Candida thrives in dark, moist places like the inside of a baby’s mouth or between or below your breasts. Damp absorbent breast pads left in your bra, or plastic-lined nursing pads used to discourage leaking, can both contribute to yeast growth.

Preventing a yeast infection is one of many reasons why it’s important to treat nipple trauma quickly. Cracked, irritated or injured skin on or around the nipple invites infection. On the other hand, intact, dry skin is protective against Candidiasis.

Infection Symptoms in Moms

Symptoms of yeast infection in the nursing mother include intense nipple pain that is often sudden, with no improvement despite changing positions during breastfeeding. This may occur early on, or after weeks or months of pain-free nursing. Pain can be so severe that mothers with a yeast infection may not be able to tolerate anything against her sore nipples. Although nipples are often itchy, pink or flaky, it is possible that nipples appear normal, yet a mother still has candidiasis.  

It is possible to have yeast overgrowth on your nipples without any sign of the infection in the baby’s mouth, and the opposite is also true – you may see signs in your baby’s mouth and not have any symptoms in or on your body.

When a mother has overgrowth of yeast on her nipples, her baby will often develop oral thrush.

Thrush Symptoms in Babies

Candidiasis in the oral cavity of the baby is called thrush. Thrush will make a baby’s lips, mouth and gums feel sore, which may cause reluctance to breastfeed. The telltale signs of thrush are white patches cannot be wiped off inside the mouth, gums, lips, unlike milk. A persistent, red diaper rash with a clear border and possibly peeling skin that doesn’t respond to rash ointments is another sign that the infant has contracted an overgrowth of yeast.

Treating Thrush

If you suspect a yeast infection for you or your baby, first, see your doctor to receive a diagnosis.

If yeast is confirmed, know that it is very common and does not have to interrupt your breastfeeding relationship. However, it’s important to take the proper steps to get rid of it. Your doctor will recommend a yeast-fighting protocol to avoid reinfection. These precautions typically include thorough hand-washing after diapering or using the bathroom, boiling anything that comes into contact with your breast for more than 20 minutes a day (bras, cotton pads, pump parts) and boiling or discarding pacifiers, toys, or anything that came in contact with baby’s mouth. An oral and or topical treatment will also be prescribed. If a mother does not improve rapidly, she should be reevaluated by her health care provider because a bacterial infection may be present along with yeast.

Remember, yeast is persistent, and many strains of yeast may be resistant to the first line of treatment. For the nursing mom and baby, the key for getting rid of yeast is ensuring that both mother and infant are treated simultaneously. As with all aspects of mom life, it’s essential to prioritize and attend to your own needs so you’re at your best when caring for your baby.

At Ashland Health, taking care of moms, so they can care for babies, is at the heart of everything we do. Whether you need a rush order of replacement parts to replace your set after a yeast infection, or you want the comfort of speaking with our IBCLCs and staff of moms who’ve been where you’re standing, we’re always here to help. Contact us today to see how we can help you meet your breastfeeding goals.