The Non-Joys of Breastfeeding, Part One: THRUSH
For the next couple weeks we shall be discussing EVERYONE’S favorite thing ever. Breastfeeding issues and problems and things that suck…other than your nursing infant. Another one of those let’s-freak-out-the-pregnant-women topic! Thrush! Mastitis! Low supply, over supply and more! This way! Follow meeeee!
*skips down the yellow-brick road, which actually appears to be paved with yellow Medela breast pump parts*
This week’s scourge upon thy heaving bosom…THRUSH.
Okay, you know what thrush feels like? I can tell you first-hand about this one. Have you ever gotten athlete’s foot? That kind of under-the-skin itch that you can’t scratch with a side of burning irritation? Now imagine getting athlete’s foot in your nipple.
Yeeeeeah. It’s fun!
I had the distinct pleasure of contracting thrush soon after Noah was born. Just when we were getting latched on properly and my milk came in and the initial wear-and-tear on my boobs started to heal…it suddenly hurt to nurse. Again. More. Ow. I tried different positions, latched and re-latched and went through a truckload of Lasinoh, but nothing helped. The pain continued. And then…the itching started. I thought maybe it was my new nursing bra or detergent or healing scabs. But my nipples WEREN’T scabbed anymore — they were, however, bright, bright red and kind of…shiny? What the hell?
Fortunately, I knew EXACTLY what the hell was going on. I marched myself back into the lactation consultant’s office and presented my itchy hurty boobs and my baby’s hideously rashy butt as evidence. Classic thrush. Candida. A yeasty fungal infection that mother and baby can share and pass back and forth many times before successfully getting rid of it.
Noah had a terrible yeasty diaper rash that no cream on earth seemed to touch and went on repeated nursing strikes, or would pull off my breast and wail for no apparent reason. But he did not get any white spots in his mouth, which is usually a telltale sign of thrush. My nipples sure did hurt, but I didn’t get any of the “deep” breast pain that a lot of articles about thrush described. I mention these because when I saw that we were missing a couple of the symptoms, I stupidly thought maybe we DIDN’T have thrush after all. DUH.
My LC painted my boobs up with Gentian Violet — a weird purple solution that stains everything (I referred to my breasts as Muppet Hooters the whole time), and instructed me to rinse after nursing with a vinegar solution and a cotton ball. I swapped my lanolin out and used the All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO) instead (which contains a small amount of Nysatin to fight fungus.)
There are many, many ways to treat thrush — and you may need to try a combination of prescription treatments and natural remedies, since yeast can be VERY hard to kill. Wash EVERYTHING, particularly your hands and bras. Use bleach on them if you can, or a little distilled white vinegar. Sterilize EVERYTHING, particularly your breast pump or anything your baby mouths. You may want to toss out things like bottle nipples or pacifiers. Don’t save any milk that you may pump during treatment (the thrush may still be present after freezing and cause another bout of infection later on), but you do NOT have to stop nursing.
Noah’s rash needed the distilled white vinegar rinse too (though I couldn’t bear to do it as often as my LC recommended, because it seemed like it really stung), only rinsing his butt in the sink with plain water and Cetaphil (no wipes), LOTS of diaper-free time and a good coating of Triple Paste whenever he did wear a diaper. I felt relief pretty quickly after the Gentian Violet application, and my symptoms were completely gone in about five days. Noah’s rash took a full week to heal, but we thankfully did not have any problems with reinfecting each other over and over.
You’re at risk for thrush if…
1. You received antibiotics at any point during late pregnancy and/or labor & delivery (i.e. c-sections, Group B strep, etc.).
2. Your baby received antibiotics at some point after birth.
3. You have or are prone to chronic vaginal yeast infections.
And even if none of these situations apply to you…you can still totally get thrush. Cracked, bleeding nipples from the early days of bad latches? Pump trauma? Oral contraceptives? Steroids? Damp nursing pads? Diabetes? Anemia? Pacifiers? Lots of artificial sweeteners or a high-sugar diet? Yep, you might be a redneck. I mean, at risk for thrush.
(I know. I’m painting the World’s Sunniest Picture of Breastfeeding ever. Pregnant women everywhere are going to file a big class-action restraining order against me.)
So let me end this one with some good news: I did not get thrush this time around, despite getting the same hardcore antibiotics after my surgery. I had tested positive for GB strep a couple weeks earlier, so I needed treatment for that as well, YAY. I also had plenty of nipple trauma, thanks to Ezra being born completely tongue-tied. (And it turns out breastfeeding isn’t like riding a bike — everyone at the hospital assumed that since I’d nursed one baby I remembered the best way to get a newborn latched on. I totally didn’t. Oops.)
I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I took a probiotic supplement in the weeks before and after my c-section. While breastfeeding websites have TONS of treatment options, probiotics are really the only preventive measure out there. Luckily, in my case, it worked. I also got my hands on some APNO ASAP, on our first pediatrician appointment after our discharge. Here’s Kellymom.com’s take on probiotics as a preventative measure for thrush — they mention giving your infant some as well, which I personally did not. (Mostly because it honestly never occurred to me. Hi! I am a real good expert at things, mmmm-hmm.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take off my bra and take a shower or bathe in some distilled white vinegar because writing about this topic has made my boobs ITCH LIKE CRAZY. Gaaaahhh.
Published June 30, 2009. Last updated January 14, 2018.