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The Non-Joys of Breastfeeding, Part One: THRUSH

By Amalah

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’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.

If you landed here but are still pregnant, visit Amalah’s Pregnancy Weekly. You won’t regret it.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Ashley

    June 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Where exactly do you buy a probiotic supplement? Is it over-the-counter? Also, when did you start and stop taking it? Before the c-section? At the hospital? Just curious…

  • Amalah

    June 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Ashley: Probiotics are over-the-counter. I got mine at Whole Foods, but you can get them at most vitamin stores, drugstore pharmacies and places like GNC now. They’ll either be with the herbs and “natural remedies” or with the digestive health products. The Kellymom link I included has good guidance on what kind to look for. They come in caplets and powders; I did the pills.
    I started taking them two weeks before my c-section and continued until I ran out of pills. About a month? Or so? I think my jar was a 45 day supply, or some other random amount.

  • Della

    June 30, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Oh. Mah. Gah. IF ONLY I had had this to read the first time around.
    Instead, I went round and round and round on Kellymom and seriously every single other parenting/breastfeeding site on the ENTIER INTARWEBS people, hours of my life I can’t get back. And weeks of itching pain that I just put up with.
    Like Amy, we didn’t have any white spots in the mouth. In week 2 and week 3, we had some ridiculously bad diaper rash (it was literally RED rather than pink) that was NOT textured, and on which Nystatin cream for an entire WEEK did NOT work (after which I cried, took him off everything, Desitin, Nystatin, baby powder, and just left him plain and so help me God if that damn rash did not clear up COMPLETELY in TWO DIAPER CHANGES).
    So, since the baby didn’t seem to have any thrush symptoms, and since my nipples were not shiny, red, or particularly sore (breastfeeding was great for us), I could not come up with any explanation for the stabbing itching in my breasts… that lasted for nearly 6 weeks. Our doctor (my son and I share a general practictioner) did not think we had thrush.
    Although hello, we were on antibiotics for 24 hrs before and after birth, major blinky light here people! A couple extra “risk factors”: I tend to eat lots of sugar and carbs, especially when rushed (like when caring for a newborn). MAJOR OVERSUPPLY including soaked breast pads all the stinking time. (I changed them almost hourly, but still.)
    Anyhow, now I am almost sure it was thrush. I think I would have been spared this if my OB or my GP had been a little less rigid in their definition of what was required to “prove” that it was thrush, and more willing to try and alleviate my symptoms just for my own comfort. (It’s not like gentian violet has any major risk factors.)
    AND if I had been a little more willing to step up and complain that discomfort. I knew how blessed I was to have a good-latching, good-eating, happy, sleepy, healthy baby, overabundant milk supply, etc etc, and I was new at this, and I bulldozed my own instincts and discomfort saying “doctor knows best, it must be nothing. ”
    Motherhood comes with plenty of opportunities for self-sacrifice. If you have something tangible that can possibly be fixed (sorry, lack of sleep isn’t on that list!), find someone who cares enough to help you fix it.

  • Shylo

    June 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Could you please, please, please address the general idiocy of breastfeeding videos which say, “Your baby knows how to latch!” implying that it’s your fault, you crappy mom.
    Because, really, sometimes your baby DOES NOT know how to latch — and won’t ever figure it out after months of trying, crying, biting and pumping.

  • Abby

    July 1, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I don’t know if you are speaking from current frustration or past frustration, but I have a baby (10 weeks) who sometimes forgets how to latch and one trick I found that I haven’t read anywhere else is I make a sucking sound with my mouth (while she’s crying at the nipple because the milk isn’t coming into her) and that seems to spark her memory. This probably only works if the baby does sometimes latch OK though.

  • Michelle Pixie

    July 8, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    This info is so HELPFUL at this very moment. We have been fighting the thrush battle for a little while and it is so exhausting and painful! My daughter is six months old and she is my third baby and this is the first time I have ever experienced thrush and I hope to god I never have to again! Gentian Violet has been very helpful except that everyone keeps freaking out over the baby’s lips being purple. 😉

  • Leslie Preslie

    August 29, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    I suffered through SIX WEEKS of thrush before the stars aligned and I got treated for it. It took three rounds of anti-fungals (Niacin first, then Ketaconazole), gentian violet topical treatment, and pro-biotics to finally beat it.
    My main symptom was deep stabbing pain, accompanied by occasional itch, so without the tell-tale shiny nipples I had a hard time convincing my ob that it was thrush.
    I am on a powerful immunosuppressant drug for an unrelated condition, but that means I have hard time fighting off any type of infection.
    SO, since the first round of Niacin didn’t work, the doc said it wasn’t thrush, even thought I knew it was!! I think they finally started to take me seriously when I started leaving teary messages on the nurse line with words like “bonkers” and “berserk”. I finally came across the gentian violet treatment and combined it with pro-biotics and the ketaconazole (a more powerful oral anti-fungal). I felt better in, like, two days. I seriously thought I would go crazy with the pain!!

  • Shan

    September 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I wish the Dr would warn you about this after giving you treatment for Group B strep.  My breasts just started itching last night, 

  • Katie

    October 18, 2015 at 1:39 am

    How many times/ days did you use the gentian violet? I’ve seen different info on different sites. Dr. Newman’s site says once a day for 3-4 days, while others say twice a day. Starting my treatment tomorrow, and want to get this right! I’ve had thrush for 5 weeks, this is getting ridiculous…