Six Important Things to Know About Thrush in Breastfed Babies

Figuring out life with a newborn is challenging, to put it mildly. With disrupted sleep, fluctuating hormones, and emotions running high, it is quite the rollercoaster. And if you are breastfeeding, that brings its own layers of skills to navigate. It also can bring a troublesome and painful issue: thrush.

Thrush in breastfed babies is a common condition, affecting about one in twenty infants. But it isn’t just for babies. Breastfeeding moms can develop it, as well. In fact, where there’s smoke, there is usually fire. That is, if a mom has thrush, it is likely that her baby does, too, and vice versa.

This painful condition can create a significant setback in your breastfeeding journey, so it is essential to know what it is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. For help with thrush or other kid-related issues, reach out to the team at Balanced Family Natural Medicine. We can get you and your baby back to good health.

What Is Thrush?

Thrush is an infection that occurs when there is an overgrowth of yeast. It is a fungal infection that requires treatment. 

The yeast Candida albicans occurs in our bodies naturally, and typically it stays in check due to the beneficial bacteria and yeast that also exists there. It lives in our digestive tracts and on our skin and usually does not cause any problems.

But if something disrupts the balance between good and bad bacteria and yeast, such as the use of antibiotics, an overgrowth can occur. Too much candida is the same culprit responsible for vaginal yeast infections and some diaper rashes on babies. 

During vaginal deliveries, yeast from the mom often passes to the baby. This is why thrush is most common in infants. It usually takes hold during the birth process.

Just because thrush in breastfed babies is fairly common doesn’t mean it is something to take lightly. It is painful and can disrupt their ability to nurse. And if it spreads to the mother’s breast, she will also be in pain, making it very difficult to breastfeed.

What Are the Symptoms of Thrush in Breastfed Babies?

Because thrush can spread swiftly, it is vital to respond with medication quickly. If you notice the following symptoms in your baby, make an appointment to see the pediatrician:

  • Baby has a difficult time settling or seems uncomfortable while nursing.
  • White patches in your child’s mouth
  • A white film on your baby’s lips
  • Baby has a diaper rash that doesn’t clear up

And for you mamas, if you experience any of these symptoms, get in to see your doctor right away:

  • Burning pain in both breasts or nipples after feeding your baby
  • Shiny or flaky skin on the nipples
  • Stabbing pain behind nipples

What Is the Treatment for Thrush?

There are several options for treating thrush in breastfed babies and their moms. Be sure to get to the doctor swiftly for the most effective treatment.

Because of the contagious nature of thrush, it is likely the doctor will treat both of you, even if you do not both have symptoms yet. The most common treatments include:

  • Topical creams and ointments: Options such as nystatin, miconazole, and clotrimazole are antifungal medications. They can go directly on the breast and nipple and also in your baby’s mouth to address yeast overgrowth. Some people also find relief from the application of oregano and tea tree oil. However, these should not be considered substitutes for prescription medications. Talk with your naturopath before undertaking any treatment.
  • Oral medications:  Your provider may prescribe an oral antifungal medication such as fluconazole for you and your baby, especially if topical options don’t work quickly. 
  • Proper hygiene: Excellent, consistent handwashing is critical in getting thrush under control. It is also crucial that you wash and sterilize anything that comes in contact with your baby’s mouth, such as pacifiers. Be sure not to share bath towels with anyone else in the family until the infection is gone.
  • Gentian violet: This over-the-counter topical option can be useful in treating candida overgrowth. It will turn your baby’s mouth purple temporarilys, but it can bring relief. Talk with your child’s pediatrician before using gentian violet.

Six Things to Know About Thrush in Breastfed Babies

1. Fight it by staying cool and dry.

Candida thrives in warm, moist environments. Be sure to keep your breasts and nipples clean and dry between feedings. Wear a clean cotton nursing bra and avoid using breast pads as much as possible. They trap moisture against your nipples, creating a perfect thrush breeding ground.

2. You can still breastfeed when you and your baby have thrush.

Although it is painful, it is safe to continue nursing your baby when you have thrush. Understandably, many women discontinue breastfeeding when thrush hits because of the discomfort. If you can continue, it will not harm you or the baby. Early treatment can help boost your chances of continuing to breastfeed your baby.

3. You should not save pumped breast milk when you have thrush.

While it is safe to breastfeed when you are undergoing treatment for thrush, you should not save and freeze any pumped milk during this time. Freezing does not kill the yeast overgrowth. Once you have completed the course of treatment, it is safe to collect and freeze your milk again. 

4. Offering formula may increase the risk of thrush.

The iron in infant formula may lead to the development of thrush. Bottle-fed babies tend to develop the condition more frequently than babies who breastfeed exclusively.

5. Diet plays a role.

Yeast thrives on sugar. When trying to prevent or treat thrush, consider avoiding added sugars and refined carbohydrates in your food choices. A diet high in added sugars can create an excellent environment for candida to multiply.

6. Vinegar could be your best friend.

Yeast cannot grow in acidic environments. Many women find that their thrush symptoms clear up more quickly when they apply diluted white vinegar to their breasts. A mixture of one part vinegar to three parts water can work well. If you try this, be sure to dry your breasts and nipples after application thoroughly.

Seek Professional Care at Balanced Family

As you adjust to life with a baby, you are sure to have many questions and concerns. Dr. Martin at Balanced Family Natural Medicine is here to walk alongside you in your parenting life. Reach out today to establish care and enjoy a holistic approach to your child’s health.