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Nipple Thrush – Ouch!

Nipple thrush is a fungus that grows around your nipple or even in your breast. It usually spreads to the breastfeeding mom from a baby with oral thrush. (Learn about thrush in babies here.)

This article will walk you through what causes thrush in your nipples, how to know if you have it, how to prevent it and what to do if you get this fungus. Early treatment is very important, because if the thrush enters your milk ducts it can be quite painful.

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Causes Of Nipple Thrush

If you breastfeed and start experiencing shooting pain in your nipples or breasts, you may have been infected by thrush in your nipples or breasts.

Nipple thrush may occur if your baby has oral thrush and it happens to spread to your nipple and (worse) into your milk ducts.

This infection is caused by the fungus Candida albicans, a yeast that each of us have in our bodies. But when it grows too much, we can get an infection somewhere. This fungus loves moist, dark and warm environments, which is why your wet nipples when breastfeeding may be the perfect place for it to grow. Other common places to be infected are in the mucus membranes of the mouth and vagina, the perenial area, skin folds and between the toes.

The Symptoms

Since thrush is due to a fungus (candida), you might expect the typically flaky dry itchy skin often present with fungus. That can happen with nipple thrush too, but not necessarily. Here are the most common symptoms of nipple thrush:

  • The pain associated with thrush is often a burning sensation while the baby is feeding and maybe also afterwards. Some moms say the pain is worse at night, but for others there in no difference between day and night. For some the pain will radiate into the back or arm pit.

  • If your breastfeeding used to be painless and it suddenly starts hurting, you can suspect either thrush or mastitis. (For mastitis symptoms and remedies, read this article.)
  • It may very well be that pain is your only symptom. Other possible signs of nipple thrush are itchy red skin on and around the nipples, and that the skin on the nipples is slow to heal.
  • Of course, signs of oral thrush in your baby is also a clue.


How To Prevent Nipple Thrush

  • If your baby has signs of oral thrush – treat it
  • Air dry your nipples after every feeding (when possible)
  • Wash your nipple with water (no soap) after feeding a baby with signs of thrush
  • Never walk around with moist breast pads. Use disposable pads and change them often
  • Be careful to learn how to help your baby latch properly to prevent wounds.
  • Wear primarily bras and tops that breathe and can be machine washed in warm water – i.e. 100% cotton apparel.


How To Treat Thrush In Nipples And Breasts

  • If your thrush is only spread to your nipples, not your breasts, you can treat it with anti-fungal gel. Just check with your baby’s health care provider first for instructions.
  • You can also use the home remedies for baby thrush found here, such as swabbing your nipples with sodium bicarbonate solution or lingonberry jam. I wouldn’t try gentian violet though – you’ll look too funny, scare your baby and stain your clothes and bras. But if nothing else helps, some women do swear by gentian violet ans a very effective remedy worth trying.
  • Treat your baby and your baby’s pacifiers and toys at the same time.
  • If someone else in your family also has any kind of fungus, treat all of you at the same time, including diaper rash, which can also be caused by yeast.
  • To iron your bras and clothes are also good ways to kill off any fungus that survived the washing.
  • Apply a white vinegar solution to your nipples. Mix a solution of one table spoon of vinegar with one cup of water. Apply on your nipples directly after breastfeeding and let them air dry.
  • Aloe Vera and Grapefruit Seed Extract are two other natural remedies that have been reported to help mitigating thrush. Aloe Vera is simply smeared on to the nipples after feeding. Instructions on how to use grapefruit seed extract can be found among the baby thrush remedies referred to above.
  • Cut down on sugar to prevent the fungus to spread further into your body – fungus loves sugar!
  • You can also take Lactobacillus acidophilus capsules to boost your body’s defense against the fungus.

Yeast infections can be quite stubborn and if the treatment you try doesn’t help, ask a doctor for alternative medication. It is generally recommended now that anti-yeast medications be used for at least one week after the pain is gone.

If you have pain not only in your nipples, but deeper inside your breasts, the thrush may have spread deep into your milk ducts, and you now have a yeast infection in your breasts. In such case, you may need medication and should definitely contact a doctor. You can still start treatment at home with all the above steps, but it is not likely to be enough.

If you have lumpy breasts and pain, you may have caught mastitis, another type of breast infection. Read more about mastitis here.

If you have experienced breast pain and thrush, please share your experiences or tips in the comments section below.

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