Thrush: The Basics, the Treatments & the Plan

Breastfeeding a child is a glorious experience for many women.  Making milk, and providing a child with the nutrients from your own body is amazing! However, sometimes, it is not all sunshine and rainbows.  There are some conditions that can occur, and in this article, we will look at a very common situation faced by breastfeeding Moms.

Thrush is a condition that arises when yeast manifests in the body, also know as Candida.  Candida occurs when the balance of good bacteria, or probiotics, is disturbed.  The overuse of antibiotics, lack of probiotic rich foods/supplements, an abundance of sugar, and an improper immune system will all contribute to Candida.

Candida is a condition that is persistent.  Many humans will have this situation, and it may remain undiagnosed or untreated.  Thrush is what medical professionals use to identify the condition of Candida thriving in ones breast milk.  As breast milk is full of wonderful sugars, warm, and held in a localized area, Candida grows very easily there.

Think of yeast in bread, when left in a comfortable, warm location, the yeast expands and grows.  Thrush is similar, when Candida is present in the body, it will direct itself to the most comfortable location, take root, and grow.  Sugars act as food for Candida, and this means all sugars, even fruit sugars, alcohol, and lactose.

Factors facing breastfeeding Moms that may attribute to thrush include; a history of yeast infections, cracked or open nipples, or nipples not allowed to “breathe” through air drying,  use of birth control pills (specifically those high in estrogen,) steroid use,  antibiotic use (or antibiotics given during labor,)  and diabetes in the mother.

Prevention may be a lifelong commitment.  Unfortunately, once Candida takes hold, it can be very difficult to completely eliminate. As our diets have become more processed and convienent, our immune system suffers.  To maintain the balance of healthy bacteria in our bodies, we must choose fresh, nutrient rich foods, and avoid processed, sugar rich foods.

Foods that are fermented, such as; kim-chi (a saurkrat like condiment,) yogurts or kefir (choose un sweetened varieties,) miso (a soup made from fermented soy beans) and Kombucha (a carbonated drink made from a living spore,) are all good sources of live, naturally occurring probiotics.  Other sources of probiotics can be found in supplemental form, however, some are more powerful than others.

Choosing a refrigerated probiotic supplement will guarantee that the cultures are more active.  Some preferred brands are; Mega Flora by Mega Food, and All Flora by New Chapter.  These can be found at your local health food store, or online.    The probiotics work to help restore the balance of healthy bacteria in our gut.  Without this healthy bacteria, our systems are not able to function properly, making us more susceptible to diseases.

It is important to continue to take probiotics daily, adding them to ones routine, to maintain their effect.  It is also important to include high fiber foods into the diet, as these will help remove the Candida organisms from the body and bowels.  As mentioned above, Candida is a feisty beast, and it will not give up without a fight.  Prevention is a solid route to a healthy life, however, once Candida has a hold of one’s system, how do we identify and treat this condition?

Some signs of a possible case of thrush, as seen in the mother, are; intense itchy breasts, a deep pain in breasts or nipples, which may manifest as a shooting pain as the milk is let down, and red or pink, shiny nipples with either a rash or flaky skin.

Many people affected by Candida will have strong cravings for sugars; this is a sign of yeast overgrowth in the body.  As discussed above, the yeast feeds on sugars, and will send signals to the brain to supply more, helping the yeast thrive.

Some possible signs of thrush in baby are; a persistent diaper rash (that may be red and inflamed,) white spots in mouth or on tongue (that are not easily wiped away,) refusal of the breast (due to mouth sores,) increased gas (attributed to the overgrowth of yeast,) and some babies might make a clicking, or unusual, sound as they nurse.

However, thrush may be present with or without any of these symptoms, and the symptoms listed are not an inclusive list.   To avoid self diagnosis, and prevent the condition from worsening, seeking expert medical advice is always recommended.  Please contact your licensed medical professional, lactation consultant, or caregiver with any questions.

While thrush is present, the breastfeeding relationship may seem strained.  Pain for both mom and baby is hard to overcome, however it is safe to continue to nurse while working through the situation.  The milk produced will have active yeast, and may upset the baby’s stomach, however, there is not a need to wean or supplement, unless you and your medical team deem it necessary.

Though, any milk pumped should be used immediately and not frozen for the future.  Once Candida is removed from the system, you will not want to re-introduce it through the previously pumped milk.  If breast or nipple pain is an issue, using cold compresses, and following the treatments discussed below, should provide some relief.

To examine management plans, first we will discuss conventional methods of treatment.   Many medical professional will suggest the use of Nystatin, Fluconazle, or another anti fungals.  These are prescribed in oral pill form and taken correctly they work internally to kill the organisms causing the ailment.

For resistant cases, these pills may be recommended as a long term treatment plan.  Nystatin also can be used as cream; it is applied to the breast and nipples after every feeding.  These formulas are advised safe for use while breastfeeding.  Nystatin has long been used as a first treatment plan, thus, some cases may be defiant to its effects.

In those cases, other over the counter, anti fungal creams may be recommended.   However it is important to remember that modern medicine usually fixes a problem by tossing a bomb into the field, so keep this in mind when using these products.

Most often, when Candida is present, a life style change, as discussed above, will be imperative to recovering from the condition.  Also, the condition can be passed back and forth between mom, baby, and even dad (through sexual intercourse,) so make sure the whole family is free and clear before feeling confident.

In addition to conventional methods, there are other, more natural options to treating thrush.  The entire family will benefit from some of the following methods that address removing yeast.

The first thing to do is start washing everything with HOT water and white vinegar.  Wash bedding, nipple pads, shirts, baby’s diapers (if cloth diapering,) bottles, pacifiers, toys, basically anything breast milk, baby’s saliva, or one’s genitals might have contact with.

The vinegar works to strip the Candida bacteria from the surface and prevent re-growth or transfer.  Remember Candida is persistent, and one must be vigilant to keep it away.  You might have to do this washing with vinegar daily until the condition is under control.

Vinegar may also be used as a wash for the nipples, and may provide some relief from the itch.  Other topical remedies, such as gentian violet may be used.  Gentian violet is a topical liquid antifungal derived from a plant source, which you apply to the nipples and breasts.  It has a very strong color, and will stain anything it comes in contact with for days.

This includes breasts, baby’s mouth, and clothing, so use with discretion.  Using a cotton swap, paint the nipple and breast area and allow the area to dry.  Using a new cotton swap, paint the inside of baby’s mouth (if white patches are present.)  Safe while breastfeeding, many Mothers feel this is a very effective and safe option.

Gentian violet can be found online, or at some health food stores.   Sunlight is also an effective yeast killer, if possible, hang washed items in a sunny location to dry.  Allowing the nipples/breasts access to direct sunlight is another effective remedy.  A great time to try this is after painting the area with vinegar or gentian violet.

Taken internally, some herbs or supplements may have positive effect on Candida.  Oil of oregano and grapefruit seed extract have been used to treat the over growth of yeast in the body.  Many vitamin companies also make supplements intended for cleansing the body of Candida.

They can be found under names such as; Candida Cleanse, Candida-Support, or Yeast-Cleanse.   These formulas are usually a combination of anti fungal herbs, diuretics, and fiber.  Ingesting coconut oil and using this topically may be effective as well.

Coconut oil has naturally occurring anti fungal properties, and is safe to use in and around baby.  Another topical idea is tea tree oil, long used to treat fungal conditions; this is a very strong essential oil, so use with caution.  Tea tree oil is not to be ingested.  As with all supplements, consult your medical professional and do your own research, before using.  

Dealing with thrush, or Candida may seem daunting at first, but it is a common problem that can be overcome with patience, time, and dedication.  The benefits of breastfeeding a child will undoubtedly weigh stronger.  The ideas presented here are helpful for incorporation of healthy living as well.

Remembering that Candida can affect everyone, and that thrush, is merely a manifestation of Candida in the breast milk, allows one to consider a more whole body approach.  Many moms will find relief within days of starting treatments, and be done with this issue with ease.

For those that see it returning, have yeast infections, or other symptoms of Candida, taking a comprehensive approach as discussed here, will be positive.

The information presented here is meant to be used with caution.  The writer makes no claims, and is not a licensed medical professional.

Please contact your medical team for diagnosis, and additional resources.The information presented here is meant to be used with caution.  The writer makes no claims, and is not a licensed medical professional.  Please contact your medical team for diagnosis, and additional resources. (Written by  Roxanne Nordloh)

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