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If you’ve made it to this page, chances are you either suspect you may have nipple thrush, or you’ve been told that you do.
As someone who dealt with nipple thrush for about two months, I’d like to share some sympathy (ugh, it sucks) and tips for clearing it up.
Disclaimer: None of this information is intended to replace that of your physician. Please see my disclaimer page for more info.
What is nipple thrush?
Nipple thrush is a yeast infection (yes, like the ones you can get down there). On your nipples. Gross.
What causes nipple thrush?
Yeast thrive in dark, moist environments.
You may not have thought of your nipple as being a dark, moist place.
But generally, your nipples are covered (i.e. dark) and sometimes you might have milk still on your nipples after your baby feeds, or if you leak milk.
You can also be susceptible to thrush if your nipples have been cracked or blistered. (So, basically every new mom whose baby hasn’t figured out latch yet.)
What does nipple thrush look like?
Generally, nipple thrush doesn’t look like anything.
As opposed to vaginal yeast, nipple yeast is pretty invisible.
Instead, you have to look for the signs.
How do I know if I have nipple thrush?
Signs of nipple thrush include:
- itching/burning nipples
- nipple pain while breastfeeding that lasts throughout the feeding
- especially nipple pain that is new after a period of pain free nursing
- shooting pains in the breast originating at the nipple and radiating toward the chest (that often begin after a feed)
- Shiny red nipples
- Flaky nipple skin
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are also present in other conditions. For example, you can have nipple pain that lasts throughout the feed with a milk bleb.
You may also need to look for signs of oral thrush in your baby.
- white patches on the gums, tongue, or inside of cheeks.
- inflamed tissue near the white patches
- fussy baby during feeds
Still, your baby may never show any symptoms of thrush (mine didn’t).
Usually, having at least two of the symptoms of nipple thrush is a good reason to seek treatment.
I think I have nipple thrush. What do I do?
Well, first, you can cry – it’s OK. You’ve got another damn thing to worry about and it totally sucks.
FIRST (I mean, second – after crying), figure out if you can still breastfeed.
If you are having pain that you can’t bear, then it will be much better for you to pump milk until the pain is more manageable.
Believe me – I know first hand that trying to suffer through it (and not really being capable) will totally tank your milk supply.
I had thrush worse on my right side and I would let my son nurse for a few minutes before I would take him off and switch sides.
I never bothered to pump. & now my right side is an under-performer.
You will also likely be susceptible to clogged milk ducts with nipple thrush so keep nursing or pumping so they don’t turn into mastitis!!
SECOND – Tell someone
You have two options the way I see it.
You can waste your time & go see the lactation nurse to check and make sure it’s not your latch (it probably isn’t – let’s be real).
OR you can go straight to the OB and tell them what’s going on and get started on treatment.
Personally, I did the first option in the beginning because I didn’t know and didn’t suspect nipple thrush. I didn’t even know what nipple thrush was back then.
Then it took me another couple of weeks to finally figure it out and to get with my OB. I suffered for a long time.
You might also need to tell your baby’s pediatrician
If your baby has visible signs of thrush, tell your pediatrician.
& even if they don’t, tell your pediatrician.
Thrush can be passed back and forth between mom and baby and results in a never ending thrush-fest.
I “treated” my son for thrush during the first round of treatment (i.e. I gave him medicine only when I felt like it because he hated it) even though he showed no signs of thrush.
Notice that I said first round.
By the THIRD round, I really got serious about giving him the medicine because I was SICK of having thrush.
How is nipple thrush treated?
So there are several different ways to treat thrush.
If you go through your OB, they will give you either
- nystatin cream
- or fluconazole pills
These are ANTI-FUNGALS (not antibiotics).
Many women do not get relief with nystatin cream.
Personally, I had a noticeable improvement in the first day of using the cream, and then I did not progress any further.
In fact, I felt like I had regressed back to the starting point.
So I asked for the pills.
The first time I took them (over a week), I felt so much better. This was a reassuring feeling because it validated my uncertainty about having thrush.
But by the second day after treatment was done, I was back to feeling like crap!
Luckily, my OB had given me a refill, so I picked that up and then went to searching for more ways to get rid of this awful crap.
A lot of people believe that the only way to really treat thrush is naturally.
I’m not one of those people.
But I felt that if the first round of strong oral meds didn’t do the trick all the way, then I would have to look into other therapies.
Complementary therapies include:
- Diluted vinegar
- All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO)
- Diet modification
- Strict cleaning protocols
- Gentian Violet
My process for finally getting rid of thrush went like this:
- Go to the store and buy ingredients for over the counter APNO OR ask your OB for a prescription APNO (also found at the above link)
- Personally, I used BOTH types of antifungal cream because I’d seen a recipe say to do so (I can’t find it now).
- When I was discharged from the hospital, I was given 2% hydrocortisone cream, so I used that!
- Disinfect everything
- I mean everything. Sheets. Baby clothes. Towels. Countertops. Pacifiers. Pump parts. Bottles. Baby toys. Anything the baby has slobbered on. Your bras.
- Start taking the oral medicine
- Mix 1 TBSP vinegar in one cup of water and keep it in a tupperware bowl. Rub some on nipples after every feed and let dry.
- Apply APNO after every feed or pump session, not too heavily. I didn’t ever wipe the cream off because it was mostly absorbed or removed by my bra before the next feed. You can if you feel like it’s necessary.
- Reduce sugar intake
- I think this was a big one for me. I was VERY snacky in those early weeks and not watching what I ate AT ALL.
- DO NOT coat your nipples with breast milk!
- This is a common recommendation for sore nipples, but you will only be feeding the yeast. Wipe off your nipples after every feed or pump session.
- If you use pads to catch leaks, change them very frequently.
- Take a probiotic every day
- Change bra every day (you can buy cheap $5 t-shirt bras at Wal-Mart if you don’t have a huge supply of bras!)
Optional: Gentian Violet
To me, gentian violet was going to be my last resort because it is very messy.
This therapy choice requires you to put GV on your nipples and let the baby nurse.
It can be pretty effective.
Just make sure you get the right kind, diluted to 1%.
Don’t give up breastfeeding on a bad day
There were so many times that I wanted to quit breastfeeding because of nipple thrush.
Of course, the thought of being glued to a pump, or having to pay for formula were my strongest reasons not to.
I attended a support group for breastfeeding mothers during this time (and still do even though things are going OK).
The one thing the lactation nurse always says is,
Don’t give up on a bad day. If you’re going to give up, do it on a good day, and make peace with it.
Believe me, this problem will go away. It just takes some time.
Breastfeeding is no joke, so it is definitely OK if you really do want to stop, but try to do it because you really want to, not because some stupid thing is making you want to!
Are you dealing with thrush right now? Tell me how you feel about it so I can commiserate with you 😉