Do your poor, sore nipples burn like fire every time your newborn latches on? So badly that you wince and squeeze tears back while you pray for it to ease?
Prickly pain when latching can be a sign of nipple thrush – and you should get checked by your provider asap.
I remember those weeks and months when we could barely nurse for the pain all too well.
So if you’re struggling with painful breastfeeding and wondering if you might have thrush, this post is for you. And if you KNOW you’ve got thrush or baby does and you’re wondering what to do – it’s for you too.
We took months and treatment and a complete diet change to get rid of thrush for good. Let’s hope it’s a little easier for you.
Note: I’m not a health care professional and this is not medical advice. If you think you or your baby have thrush, see your healthcare provider ASAP.
This post contains affiliate links, which means that I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you purchase from my link. You can read our full disclosure policy here.
What is breastfeeding thrush and why does it happen?
Thrush is a fungal infection that happens when the candida fungus, which occurs naturally in our mouths and digestive tracts, overgrows. Most of the time your gut flora keeps candida under control but it can get out of control if the conditions are right. (Or wrong, depending how you look at it.)
Breastfeeding moms and babies can be at risk of breast thrush and oral thrush (for baby).
Breastfeeding thrush can happen when the new mom develops a thrush infection in her breast and it passes to her baby via breastfeeding – but it can also be the other way around. Newborn babies don’t have the strongest immunity and especially if they have had antibiotics, they could be at risk of getting thrush. If your baby gets thrush on their bottom, it could spread easily to their mouth – and then to your breast when nursing. From there, you’ll pass it back and forth between you until you figure out what’s going on and take action to fix it.
Is it a bad latch or thrush?
Breast and nipple soreness isn’t always thrush – you probably know that a poor latch can cause a LOT of pain. So how do you tell whether it is latch or thrush that’s causing your problem?
In reality, you need to see your doctor and have swabs taken from your breasts to be 100% sure but these symptoms will guide you.
It’s very common to be sore for the first few days and weeks of breastfeeding a new baby. Your baby is a beginner even if you aren’t and may take a while to get latching right. It can be very frustrating if you’ve successfully breastfed babies before and then feeding your new baby is agony – but it might just be latch. This post has ideas to help you get a great latch so nursing won’t hurt.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms of thrush in breastfeeding moms and babies.
Thrush symptoms – mom
So if you have found breastfeeding agony from the start with this baby, then maybe your latch is the problem. BUT if you were breastfeeding pain free but now it hurts, then watch for these symptoms of thrush in your breasts.
Nipple pain throughout a feed
When exactly does your nursing pain happen? Do your nipples hurt horribly when you latch on but ease off after a minute or two? That could be latching pain. But, if the pain begins when you latch on but lasts throughout the feed, then that sounds more like nipple thrush.
And now, you might be asking, what does nipple thrush soreness feel like, anyway?
What nipple pain from thrush feels like
If you’re breastfeeding and you develop thrush, sore nipples will be a big clue. They will probably look bright red or pink and shiny – and hurt when you latch your baby. Look out for an itchy, prickly or burning pain that feels a little different to the soreness of a poor latch, that just feels raw. It’s time to get help if you’re dreading every time you have to latch baby on or shielding your nipples from the shower spray.
Have you noticed any cracks in your nipples that just aren’t healing? Maybe you’ve had cracked nipples before while breastfeeding and used lanolin to fix it. If you have a thrush infection, you might find that cracks don’t heal like you expect.
Nipple thrush is one thing but the infection can get right into the breast itself.
If you’re unlucky enough to have that happen, breast thrush brings deep pain or shooting pain in the breasts. If you’ve felt any pain in the breasts themselves you should mention that to your provider because it might change the treatment you need.
Ok, that’s what mom needs to look out for but what about baby? Obviously, they can’t tell you how they’re feeling (except by crying, of course) but there are some visible signs of thrush in a breastfed baby to watch for.
Signs of thrush in babies
Just like with mom, there’s more than one thing to look out for. Check your baby for these signs:
Thrush lesions in baby’s mouth
Take a look in your baby’s mouth to see if everything looks normal. Especially check for little white blobs on their tongue and soft tissues – those are thrush lesions. They might look pretty innocent but they will make your baby’s mouth very sore and if you touch them, they won’t come off.
Your little one might not want you touching their sore mouth at all and it might also be affecting their feeding.
Baby not feeding because of yeast infection
Next, have a think about how your baby feeds normally and now when you are suspecting thrush.
Do they normally feed for 20 minutes or more at a stretch and seem happy and contented? If they do, and that changes to baby dropping off the breast during a feed then you might have a thrush problem.
A baby who wants to feed and roots and latches but then drops off the breast and cries could have a sore mouth. It can be pretty tough on them when they’re hungry and need milk but feeding hurts them, so they might be more fussy than usual. I would get my baby checked for thrush if this was happening even if I had no symptoms myself.
If you’d like to keep track of your baby’s feeds & feeding behaviour, you can download a free breastfeeding journal at the bottom of this post.
Angry red rash on baby’s bottom
Also check their bottom the next time you change them. Is there an angry red rash on their bottom that doesn’t go away with normal creme? Most diaper rashes will clear up after a couple of days of a good quality cream. If baby has a rash that’s not healing, check to see if there are any white lesions in their mouth too. You’ll need a special fungicidal cream to fix a thrush rash – and change them plenty so they’re not sitting on moisture for any length of time. Thrush loves warm, damp places!
(I think it’s worth saying that, with my daughter, the thrush rash was the first sign I noticed. Actually, I mentioned it in passing to a nurse while we were in hospital and she knew what I didn’t – my baby had thrush. Suddenly, all the nipple pain and poor nursing made sense and we were able to start treatment right away. It’s totally worth getting things checked.)
Is your baby being more upset / fussy than usual? On its own, that wouldn’t indicate thrush but if you have some of the other symptoms listed above, thrush could be the problem. Babies with thrush can be more fussy than usual because they are hungry and in pain. If you are recognising a few of these symptoms, see your doctor in case you and your baby need treatment.
Those are the main symptoms of thrush in breastfeeding moms and babies. Now, let’s talk about how to get rid of thrush and prevent it from returning.
How to get rid of breastfeeding thrush
If you’re now wondering how to get rid of thrush on your nipples, it basically comes down to treatment and prevention.
You might have noticed that I said ‘see your provider’ once or twice in the symptoms section above. That’s because it’s really important that you get treatment for thrush or it could become more of a problem. For you, the pain might get so bad that you quit breastfeeding. For baby, they might not be able to feed enough to gain weight like they should. Thrush can also spread to other parts of the body so please, see your doctor or healthcare provider.
The first thing to know is that both you and your baby have to get treated for thrush. Both of you are affected so you both get treated. You can pass thrush to and fro between you so long as you are still breastfeeding, so if you are treated but baby is not, they will likely reinfect you.
Typically, you will need to apply cream to your nipples several times a day. If your baby has a thrush rash on their bottom, they will also need cream for that separately from the oral treatment you will put in their mouth. (Well, you wouldn’t want to use the same tube, would you?)
You will probably be prescribed an anti-fungal treatment such as Miconazole oral gel for baby and Miconazole cream for you. UK charity The Breastfeeding Network recommends this treatment and it helped us both heal.
After you’ve had it once, you’ll be keen to avoid getting thrush again. Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent thrush while breastfeeding and many of them are easy and common sense. (The diet changes were what really made the difference to us.)
Hygiene is huge
If you want to prevent thrush, start with hygiene. Thrush is hard to get rid of and you will need to be careful if you want to stop it coming back.
Wash those hands
I know that’s a bit basic, but make sure you’re washing your hands really well after changing your baby or doing any other unhygienic task. Taking the dirty diapers out, wiping your toddler’s bottom and putting on dirty laundry spring to mind. After all, with babies and toddlers, laundry can be pretty dirty. If in doubt, wash them.
When I knew I had thrush, I also always washed my hands after touching anything that might be infected. Changed wet nursing pads? Wash the hands. Finished pumping breastmilk? Wash the hands. Milk leaked on my shirt and I changed it? Wash hands. You get the idea. Perhaps I took it a bit far but thrush takes a lot of killing as we’ll see next.
Boil pumping and feeding equipment
Normally, when you don’t have thrush, you can sterilise your pump parts in a steam steriliser or with sterilising tablets and that’s fine. When you have thrush, or you’re trying to avoid thrush in breastfeeding, you need to take a little more care. If you don’t, you could get you and your baby treated, heal and then get reinfected again from your pump!
So when you pump or give your baby expressed breastmilk, boil the bottles and pump equipment for at least 20 minutes. Thrush can survive on them even after steam sterilising and that’s how long it takes to kill the thrush. (This tip came from my wonderful lactation consultant.)
I also threw away all my nipple shields and bottle nipples once we were clear to try
Change clothes, daipers and breast pads often to keep moisture at bay
Thrush LOVES warm, moist places!
It thrives in wet breast pads so get into the habit of changing them often. Even if you’re not a big fan of breast pads, it’s a good idea to wear them when you have thrush to try and keep the infection out of your clothes. Try to use breathable ones like these rather than the plastic backed ones because those can become moist faster.
You might have heard that moist healing is great for sore nipples (and it is) but it’s not great for thrush. If you try to do moist healing with thrush, you will be creating an environment that thrush loves while trying to get rid of thrush. It just doesn’t make sense. Use the cream your doctor gives you and keep those nipples dry.
When you’re really sore, you could try nipple shells like these to keep your nipples gently protected while they heal. They let air circulate and also prevent anything from touching them – like protective nipple armour!
Wash affected clothes HOT
If you are using washable breast pads, boil wash them to kill the thrush and do the same with your nursing bras and tops that get wet from leaks. (You might want to wear clothes that you aren’t too bothered about until the thrush is gone so you don’t annihilate your favourite tops with hot washing.)
Change baby often
If damp breast pads are breeding grounds for thrush then it makes sense that wet, dirty diapers are too. Help your baby’s bottom to heal by keeping them changed often enough so their bottom stays as dry as possible.
Thrush breastfeeding: diet changes
With my little girl last year, we got treatment, went crazy on hygiene and STILL thrush kept coming back. I wasn’t sure what to do next and turned to google to help me. That’s where I found the Candida diet – and finally turned a corner.
Candida diet – eliminate candida friendly foods
This diet, called the Candida diet, aims to get your thrush under control by making your body a less hospitable environment for candida. (A little like what we were doing with all the hygiene practises.)
It encourages healthy gut flora by getting rid of the sugars that candida loves and can help with all types of thrush as well as thrush in breastfeeding. The basic idea is to restore a healthy balance of yeast and gut bacteria in your body so that the candida overgrowth will stop.
It’s simple – you eliminate candida-friendly foods from your diet and eat more simple, whole foods.
It’s a lot to cut out and might seem like too much hassle – but by the time I read about this diet, we had had thrush on and off for months. I was tired of the pain and willing to do whatever to get rid of it. That turned out to be very motivating when it came to drinking my coffee without milk in the morning!
So what does this thrush diet look like?
Foods to eat on the Candida diet
You’ll mainly eat whole, unprocessed foods: fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and non-glutenous grains are the basis of the diet. Enjoy fermented foods and some dairy too but basically you are looking at cooking from scratch. I didn’t find it too hard to adapt – especially because I began to feel the benefits quite quickly.
What to avoid eating
Try not to eat those things that thrush thrives on. Sugary foods, alcohol or foods containing yeast are out and so are processed foods of any kind. You can check it out here and sign up for a free starter guide . (That’s not an affiliate link. I’m not making money from recommending this – I just found it really helpful and think you might too.)
Making the Candida diet work while breastfeeding
It’s pretty hard to eat a no-convenience-food diet when you’re breastfeeding and don’t get much sleep. Batch cooking and meal planning saved me and helped me make it work. Big pots of soup in the winter and salads in the summer are the easiest way to get by.
Lastly, a few tips for keeping going with breastfeeding while suffering nipple thrush.
How to keep feeding breastmilk with nipple thrush
Getting rid of thrush is great but you still need to feed your baby while you heal. You’ve read this far so you’re probably pretty keen to keep breastfeeding even with thrush on your nipples so here are my top tips for pushing through:
You could try breastfeeding with a nipple shield. It takes some getting used to because although the shield feels soft, it’s not as soft as a nipple. You both have to figure out how to latch with it and that might be awkward at first but if nipple thrush is making your baby’s first latch agonising, it might help you keep going.
You might find, like I did, that after a few minutes your baby unlatches and then re-latches. You could use this as an opportunity to remove the shield as it can be less painful to latch back on after the feed has begun.
Take a break from nursing and express your milk
If it becomes so painful to latch your baby on that you can’t bear it, try pumping and bottle, cup or syringe feeding for 24 hours to allow your nipples to heal and the treatment to work. Even a few hours without latching on could make you much more comfortable and able to continue breastfeeding.
If you are worried about using bottles in case your baby develops nipple confusion, you can cup or syringe feed. That way, your baby will get your milk without having to suck a bottle.
Just remember to boil all your pumping and feeding equipment for a long time – around 20 minutes – to kill off the thrush.
You CAN fix thrush
You might have to be super determined to get rid of thrush while breastfeeding. You might have to be crazy dedicated to hygiene. And you might have to pester your health professional until they give you a treatment that works. Or even change your diet – but you CAN beat thrush and prevent it from coming back.
Once you have a system going to avoid thrush, you’ll have a real chance of beating it for good – and getting rid of the pain for both of you.
Wondering whether exclusive pumping could solve your breastfeeding pain?
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