Now that it’s getting warm out, it’s time for me to write about an issue that might be affecting a nursing mommy out there: breastfeeding and yeast infection (thrush). Troubles with yeast are more common in the warmer months because yeast loves to hang out in damp, warm, sweaty places.
Thrush is one of those things that can creep up on a nursing mother and cause pain, even lead to her giving up breastfeeding. Sometimes women have no idea that a yeast infection is what’s causing their pain. It’s not understood very well and many women don’t even know that yeast infection of the breast exists. But it does!
I struggled with it for a long time when my oldest was born. At first it was just painful nipples, but because I didn’t know how to resolve it, it got much worse. The pain was very bad – I felt as if someone was sticking ice picks into my back. (This is because the yeast can colonize the milk producing glands high in the breast.) Even my shirt rubbing across my chest hurt. It felt like sandpaper.
I wonder how many moms have given up breastfeeding because they thought it was “supposed” to hurt like this?
I finally kicked it, but me, my baby and baby daddy had to be treated. (Yes, it can be passed through that kind of contact too, and men are usually asymptomatic.) He and I took Diflucan, and that was enough to stop the cycle of transmitting it back and forth.
As was mentioned before, sometimes a breastfeeding mother will suffer from pain during nursing which she thinks is “normal”. But breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt.
Repeat after me: pain with breastfeeding is common, not normal.
If everyone knows what they’re doing and there are no anatomical anomalies, then there won’t be any pain. I had no pain nursing my other babies because we didn’t have this issue.
What causes breastfeeding yeast infection?
What often precipitates yeast troubles is that mother takes antibiotics around her birth (often in the case of a Cesarean delivery or a postpartum urinary tract infection) and comes down with symptoms.
The baby may have thrush in his mouth, or he may not. He may have a diaper rash or he may not. But the baby and Mom pass the yeast infection back and forth. Baby may even be fussy at the breast. Mom thinks it’s “her milk”, and weans. This is a sad outcome.
While it is “normal” (again – in the sense of common) to experience some soreness with the initiation of breastfeeding, especially in the first time Mom, this should be little more than a temporary discomfort that goes away after the first few days or weeks. The tissue is becoming used to a new activity. It Mom is having PAIN, that is not normal and is a sign that something is wrong.
Normal soreness typically only hurts when baby first latches on, then subsides as the feeding continues.
Yeast hurts all the time, even when baby isn’t feeding and gets worse over time.If Mom has seen a Lactation Consultant or La Leche League leader and corrected any problems with latch on or positioning and baby’s anatomy is normal, she should suspect yeast.
This is especially true if Mom has had antibiotics, eats a high sugar diet, baby has any signs of thrush (white patches in the mouth, crying/fussing when feeding, diaper rash) or Mom’s partner suffers from yeast related symptoms (itching in the boy bits, although as I said, men are often asymptomatic).
Keep in mind that weaning won’t make the yeast go away. If there is yeast infection in the breast, there will also be yeast in other areas of the body – such as the vagina or gut. If Mom weans the baby, the baby will have pain in his mouth when he bottle feeds also. Better to just get rid of the yeast altogether. Shall we?
Natural Treatments For Breast Yeast And Infant Thrush
Baking soda can be an effective treatment for thrush. It changes the ph of the skin, inhibiting fungal growth. You can make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to Mom’s nipples. Rinse off before feeding the baby. Baby can also take baths with a little baking soda sprinkled in the water, which will soothe any yeasty diaper rash (it looks bright red and hurts).
Vinegar also kills yeast by changing the alkaline/acid balance of the skin, in the opposite way that baking soda does (obviously you would choose one or the other, not both treatments!). It can be irritating to the skin however, so care is needed. One tablespoon added to a cup of water and applied to Mom’s nipples several times a day with a cotton pad can help.
Olive Oil and Coconut Oil
Olive and coconut oil are highly nutritious for lactating women and should be used daily in the diet. Both have antifungal properties and coconut oil in particular is excellent for immune system health. Coconut oil is delicious for baking, added to smoothies, used to cook eggs, etc. Olive oil is delicious in soups, casseroles, used to cook meats, etc. Olive oil and coconut oil can also be taken straight from the spoon.
Some moms have had success applying a bit of coconut oil to their nipples, both for pain and to help heal the infection. I wouldn’t recommend leaving it on if the baby is a newborn, but it’s fine for older babies who are eating solid foods.
Don’t shy away from healthy fats if you’re in your reproductive years ladies. These two fats don’t make you fat. Nursing mothers all over the world since the beginning of time have thrived on high fat diets. Low fat is not healthy for the lactating or pregnant woman. And eating cheap oils means the fat in your breastmilk is of lower quality.
Strict hygiene vital for healing breast yeast
Fungus is very hardy. Good hygiene is important if you want to prevent it from recurring. Wash your nursing bras and pads, panties and cloth diapers in hot water and do a double rinse. Add vinegar to the first rinse to help kill yeast and prevent irritation from detergents. Wash your hands well with hot soapy water after using the toilet or changing diapers.
If you’re using any bottles or pacifiers, boil them before use. Throw away nipples and pacifiers after treating the thrush and buy new ones. Or better yet don’t use them if at all possible. Be sure to sanitize your breast pump parts too if you use one.
Avoid plastic backed nursing pads. They create moisture and heat which yeast loves. Use cloth nursing pads instead. Go braless when you can to let the breasts air out. And don’t use any type of soap on the breasts, ever.It’s a good idea for Mom and baby to use their own towels and washcloths for awhile. Launder them separately, using the vinegar rinse mentioned above. If it’s hot and sunny out, hang them in the sun to help kill yeast.
Wipe baby’s mouth with a clean wet washcloth or cloth napkin after feeding.
Herbal remedies and supplements for thrush
Garlic and Pau d’Arco have antifungal and immune building properties. Caprylic acid and oregano oil are also antifungal. Oregano oil must be used with extreme caution as it can be toxic in large doses. You can find many supplements that contain these ingredients in one formula.
Nutrition for healing yeast infection
Another thing that will help is supplementing with probiotics. Eat plenty of plain yogurt, kefir and cultured veggies like homemade sauerkraut. These kinds of foods contain lots of beneficial bacteria that help keep the yeast in check in the gut.
It’s also very important to eliminate sugar while treating yeast infections. This will be hard because you’ll crave it terribly! But stay strong and remove sugar, white flour, all junk food and simple carbs (white rice and even fruit) for awhile. Eat plenty of meat and protein, and tons of vegetables while you’re clearing the infection.
There are some prescription medications that you can get for yeast troubles from your baby’s Pediatrician or your OB/GYN. One is Nystatin. It’s commonly prescribed as a liquid suspension. It’s sticky and full of sugar. I hated using that stuff. It didn’t work, and it only made me and the baby and my clothes stick together like glue. And the sugar content – hello!
Another old fashioned remedy is Gentian Violet, sold in some pharmacies. I tried this one too and it’s messy to work with because it stains everything bright purple. I couldn’t take my baby out for a week because he looked like Papa Smurf. And I had to wear an old purple T shirt so as not to ruin my entire wardrobe.
But Gentian Violet is pretty effective. There are some concerns about Gentian Violet being carcinogenic with long term exposure, but it typically only has to be used for a day or two to work. So, most people who care about babies and mothers say it’s okay for this short term use. It’s also very inexpensive and available without a doctor’s prescription. You can find it at larger drug stores, or ask your pharmacist.
Diflucan was the only thing that finally worked to heal my breast yeast (and my newborn’s). Along with the nutrition and other self help measures listed above, we finally kicked it for good.
The thing with Diflucan is that a lot of doctors who are ignorant of how breastfeeding works will tell you that it’s not safe for nursing moms. That’s pretty ridiculous because Diflucan is prescribed for premature infants! Medications and Mother’s Milk is considered the authoritative source on the safety of various drugs for breastfeeding women, and in it, Diflucan gets the okay. As for me, we had tried everything else first and the meds helped me get relief, fast so it was worth it.
Have you ever had breast yeast and what did you do about it? Do tell!
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