Is your baby extra fussy these days – especially during feedings? If you’re nursing, have you also noticed your nipples are all of a sudden sore and red? Chances are you both may have a yeast infection called oral thrush.
Ew, what?! Where? How?
Before you freak out, know that oral thrush is actually a very common and usually harmless breastfeeding problem. Here’s what you need to know to help you and your baby feel better, plus steps to prevent another occurrence.
What is thrush?
Oral thrush, an infection in the mouth, is caused by a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans. Candida can normally live in our mouth, intestines and genital areas without causing any problems, but sometimes it can grow out of control quickly and become a pain for you and your baby.
“Babies are more at risk of getting and passing thrush to their mothers during breastfeeding,” said Shelbie Radom, RN, at Banner McKee Medical Center in Loveland, CO. “Newborns can get a Candida infection from their mother during birth or may be at higher risk if they have serious health conditions or were born prematurely. It can also occur after mom or baby have taken antibiotics, which can reduce good bacteria in our bodies.”
Symptoms of thrush
If you take a peek inside your baby’s mouth and notice white patches on the tongue that don’t rub off or go away, this could be a tell-tale sign they have thrush. Thrush can also be painful, so you may also notice changes in their feeding habits. It’s not unusual for babies to become fussier while nursing, bottle-feeding or sucking on their pacifier or thumb.
“One sign is if your baby has been breastfeeding without difficulty and then suddenly begins to come on and off the breast crying as if in pain,” Radom said. “Another symptom can be an increased or worsening diaper rash that is angry red, painful and hard to treat.”
If you’re nursing, chances are you may also have a yeast infection too! It’s not uncommon for you and your baby to pass it back and forth from their mouth to your breast and back again. Symptoms of nipple thrush include burning or sore nipples. You may also experience shooting pains during or after feedings.
Treating oral thrush
Before you Google “home remedies for thrush,” Radom cautions against doing so until after consulting with your baby’s doctor or your lactation consultant.
“Old home remedies may work in mild cases or for very healthy mothers and babies, but thrush is difficult to treat and may require several weeks of treatment, so these remedies may compound the problem,” Radom said.
To prevent ongoing infection or reinfection, the key is for both you and your baby to get treated at the same time. If your baby’s doctor determines it is indeed thrush, they may prescribe an antifungal medication, which is applied topically to the insides of their mouth and tongue for 10 days. If you have nipple thrush, your doctor will likely recommend a prescription antifungal cream as well for your nipples.
Important tip: “Always finish all antibiotics prescribed, even when symptoms are gone,” Radom said.
Preventing thrush altogether
Candida is a sneaky, resilient little booger … er, yeast. It thrives in warm, moist environments, so your nipples and baby’s mouth (even baby’s diaper area!) are perfect places for yeast and bacteria to hide and spread.
While thrush can be difficult to deal with and sometimes hard to prevent, here are five steps you can do at home that may help:
- Wash your hands. Make sure you wash your hands before and after nursing and after diaper changes. This way you can not only prevent the spread of Candida but also many other common illnesses too.
- Keep anything that comes in contact with your baby’s mouth and your breasts clean. Even if thrush is not a concern, you should always regularly wash items that have been in your baby’s mouth in hot, soapy water. You should sterilize bottles, nipples, pacifiers, teethers and even breast pump parts that touch your nipples.
- Change your nursing bra and breast pads regularly. Milk leakage in your nursing bra and nursing pad can be a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria to grow. Change out nursing pads and properly wash your nursing bras when they get wet.
- Add probiotics or yogurt to your daily diet. Taking a probiotic or eating yogurt with active cultures to your diet may help build good bacteria that manages the growth of yeast.
- Let “the girls” hang out to dry after nursing. If you are breastfeeding, allow your nipples to completely dry between feedings before putting your bra back on.
Don’t let a little fungus get you down, mama! Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns to find the best treatment option for you and your baby. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
For more parent-friendly advice, check out:
- 7 Common Breastfeeding Challenges and How to Solve Them
- 5 Common Teething Questions Answered
- Safe Sleep Practices for Baby