Has a white rash appeared in your baby’s mouth? Have you noticed increased pain and skin changes around your nipples? If so, you or your baby may be suffering from thrush.
Don’t panic! While this infection can be unpleasant, it’s not a serious illness and shouldn’t have any sort of long-lasting effect on you or your baby.
There are many ways to prevent and treat thrush. It’s just a matter of knowing all the facts — which is what we’re here for!
What is Thrush?
Medically known as Oral Candidiasis, “thrush” specifically refers to a fungal infection of the mouth. Thrush can also affect a woman’s nipples during breastfeeding.
Candida fungus is actually essential to our health, working with different types of gut bacteria as part of a healthy digestive system. However, the overproduction of Candida often leads to infection in people of all ages (1).
Thrush is common, affecting 1 in 20 babies, and is generally easy to treat (2).
However, it can be a symptom of underlying medical issues. If you or your baby get thrush consistently, especially after you’ve stopped breastfeeding, talk to your doctor.
What Are The Symptoms of Thrush?
Thrush has some very recognizable symptoms in both babies and their mothers.
Here are just a few you should be on the lookout for (3):
- A white, puffy oral rash: Often appears on the tongue and inside of the cheeks, and has a creamy, cottage cheese-like appearance.
- A red, cracked mouth: Your baby may also struggle to feed and become fussy during breastfeeding.
- Changes in your nipples: Mothers battling thrush may find nipples become flaky and shiny, with increased pain and sensitivity.
- Vaginal yeast infections: Mothers with thrush commonly also experience vaginal yeast infections.
- Look for diaper rashes: Babies with thrush may have more pronounced diaper rashes.
Doctors can generally diagnose thrush based on appearance alone. However, your doctor may swab the area to take a closer look.
If you have a rash and you aren’t sure if it’s thrush, don’t hesitate to pay a visit to the doctor.
What Causes Thrush?
The most common cause of the bacterial imbalance which can lead to thrush is the extended use of antibiotics (4).
Antibiotics combat dangerous or illness-causing bacteria. They, however, will also eliminate beneficial bacterias that keep your body in balance.
Without the necessary bacterial balance, Candida can grow rapidly. In other cases, babies are exposed to yeast in the birth canal, which can linger and develop into thrush.
Antibiotics, Breast Milk, and Thrush
Some antibiotics enter your bloodstream and eventually transfer to your breast milk. So, even if you’re the one taking antibiotics, your breastfeeding baby’s healthy gut bacteria levels can be affected. Newborns and babies under six months old are most at risk.
Can Thrush Be Transferred?
One of the peskiest things about thrush is the possible transference from mother to child, or vice versa.
If you have a thrush infection and your baby is nursing, their mouth is exposed to the bacteria. When a baby with thrush latches onto your nipple, the bacteria can be transferred to the sensitive skin of your breast. In fact, when mom or baby has thrush, other family members may even get it.
Do I Need to Stop Breastfeeding?
If either you or your baby has thrush, it’s important for you to both be treated, even if one of you does not have symptoms. It is not necessary to stop breastfeeding during treatment.
You may wonder if pumping your breast milk may help during this period. This is not recommended since you could contaminate your pump parts and bottles with the Candida, as well as transfer it to baby through the pumped milk.
You can feed your baby fresh or frozen breast milk while you are both being actively treated, but you should not store milk that you have pumped during a bout of thrush for future use. Freezing will deactivate yeast, but will not kill it (6).
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Can I Scrape Thrush Off?
When you notice a white substance in your baby’s mouth, your first instinct may be to wipe it away. After all, babies often have milk stains in their mouth and on their face. If you can easily get it off, it’s not thrush.
If it doesn’t come away easily, don’t try to scrape out your baby’s mouth — this can expose tender, bleeding skin and cause greater risk for other infections.
How Can I Prevent Thrush?
There are many different ways to prevent bacteria from growing out of control and causing a thrush infection.
1. Keep Your Breasts Dry and Cool
Yeast likes to grow in dark, warm places and Candida is no exception.
Prevent thrush by making sure your breasts remain cool and dry:
- Avoid tight clothing made of synthetic fabrics.
- Choose breast and nursing pads made of natural fabrics. Plastic liners and rubbery fabrics can trap heat and irritate the skin.
- Change your breast pads often. If you wear moist breast pads too long, bacteria and fungi can grow in the warm, damp environment.
- Moisturize your breasts sparingly. If you do, make sure it absorbs well and don’t put your bra or clothes on before it does.
2. Keep Things Clean
You can also prevent thrush by keeping everyday objects clean and free of harmful bacteria and fungi. Baby toys, breast pumps, pacifiers, and other objects you and your baby touch should be regularly sanitized and dried thoroughly.
3. Wash Your Hands
We know, we know — you’ve heard about the importance of washing your hands for years. Well, all those public health posters are right! It’s still one of the most effective ways to prevent infections from spreading.
So get to regularly scrubbing with good old fashioned hand soap and water—and encourage everyone in your home to do the same. It’s especially important to wash your hands after diaper changes.
4. Indulge In Some Yogurt
Yogurt is full of good bacteria and probiotics your digestive system needs. With all of its live bacterial cultures, it’s a delicious way to ensure body balance and gut health.
Check the label for Lactobacillus, which is key in regulating your microbiome. Choose plain yogurt—the flavored varieties contain more sugar, which is yeast’s favorite food! Try to eat a serving every day to help your body keep bacteria in check.
How Can I Treat Thrush?
If you or your baby are suffering from thrush, contact your doctor for an official diagnosis. You may be prescribed something like Nystatin, an antifungal cream that’s applied orally or topically.
Even if you both aren’t showing symptoms of thrush, it’s a good idea for you and your baby to be treated as a preventative measure. Candida can incubate for five days or longer without symptoms (7).
For most moms and babies, thrush will normally clean up within two weeks of beginning treatment. It’s important you continue to use your prescribed medicine, even if the infection disappears. If you don’t, the infection may linger and reappear.
At-Home Relief of Thrush
In addition to medicine prescribed by your doctor, there are a few things you can do at home to find some relief from thrush.
- Reduce sugar intake: Sugar helps yeast grow, and a diet high in sugar can make thrush symptoms worse. Focus on foods high in vitamins and protein.
- Use coconut oil: Soothes your cracked, irritated, nipple skin while providing natural antifungal properties. You can rub coconut oil inside of your baby’s mouth, but make sure they do not swallow it.
- Go topless: Go to bed bare, exposing your breasts to fresh, free-flowing air. Yeast thrives in moist, damp environments.
Products for Treating Thrush
Throughout this post, we’ve mentioned a few ways to help you prevent and treat thrush.
There are many items out on the market to help you through this time — find them online, or through your local baby store.
- Nursing Pads for Thrush: The right breast pads can prevent your breasts from becoming a breeding ground for Candida yeast.
- Breast Therapy for Thrush: If your nipples and breasts are in pain due to thrush, gel packs and heat therapy pads may bring you some relief.
- Creams for Thrush: Creams and lotions can provide relief for moms with cracked, sore nipples due to thrush.
- Baby Probiotics: Probiotics can help restore healthy bacteria levels. While it’s easy for mama to get her fix with some yogurt, a baby may have a harder time with their sensitive stomach.
Overall, thrush is a highly-treatable infection, and nothing to worry about. It may cause short-term discomfort and require a little extra effort to continue your breastfeeding routine, but through careful treatment and prevention, you and baby will be better in no time.
Have you or your baby had thrush? Do you have any motherly wisdom to pass on for someone experiencing it for the first time?
Share your thoughts, suggestions, and questions in the comments below!