Are you ready to crush thrush?

the blueprint to crush thrush while breastfeeding

This FREE quick guide highlights the main topics of this article in an easy to digest format. It also includes symptom checklists that you can take with you to your doctor’s appointment!  

How To Treat Thrush Quickly While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding may already be difficult and now you’re having sharp pain and itchy nipples. Thrush and breastfeeding is a combination you don’t want. Find out how to quickly get rid of it.

mom on couch breastfeeding baby; how to treat thrush quickly while breastfeeding

Breastfeeding comes with a steep learning curve and some painful nursing sessions in the beginning. 

Thrush is a common problem for breastfeeding moms and one that can be quite difficult to get rid of. 

If you’re like me, you’d rather try to solve these problems at home before packing up the crew for a doctors appointment. 

Luckily, there are a few natural remedies that can be tried at home before speeding to the doctor’s office once the pain has become unbearable. 

Thrush has been the culprit for moms cutting their breastfeeding journey short because they were in too much pain. 

With proper treatment and the determination to continue nursing, breastfeeding can continue as planned!

What’s to come:

What is thrush?

Thrush is a yeast (also known as fungal) infection caused by a fungus called Candida Albicans. This yeast loves to grow in places that are dark, warm, and moist like your breast pads. 

Yeast is normally found in the body so it’s not something that’s life-threatening and it’s usually kept under control by the good bacteria in your body. 

A simple change like taking an antibiotic can cause yeast to over grow and wreak havoc.

Causes

Some mamas get yeast infections more than others which means you have a higher chance of getting thrush while breastfeeding. A few causes of thrush are:

Antibiotics 

If you had a c-section as I did, it’s possible you received antibiotics through your IV to prevent infection. That pesky antibiotic not only kills the bad bacteria but the good bacteria as well. 

The good bacteria is what’s keeping the yeast at its normal level. 

Diabetes

Yeast loves sugar. If you’re diabetic your body has more sugar than what’s considered normal which makes you more susceptible to getting thrush. 

Birth control pills 

The hormones in birth control pills can throw off your hormonal balance giving yeast a window to grow. 

Wet breast pads

Since yeast loves dark, warm, and moist places, a wet breast pad with yummy sugary breast milk is like a candy factory for thrush. 

This is why it’s super important to change breast pads as soon as they get wet.

What are the symptoms?

Thrush can affect both mom and baby. Symptoms will come out of nowhere and the pain can worsen quickly.

Symptoms for baby:

  • White patches in the mouth which may be seen on the tongue, cheeks, roof of the mouth, or the gums
  • White coating on the tongue
  • Fussy while nursing or sucking
  • Refusing to eat
  • Red, bumpy diaper rash
  • Clicking sound while nursing

Symptoms for mom:

  • Itchy or burning nipples
  • Deep shooting or stabbing breast pain that you may also feel in your back or armpit
  • Cracked nipples
  • Nipples that are bright red, shiny, or flaky, and may have blisters

As many nurses do, I diagnosed myself before going to the doctor to get medication. 

Her pediatrician didn’t check her mouth until I told him I think we have thrush and my doctor (OB/GYN) had me come in three different times before sending us to a lactation consultant.

baby with oral thrush
Thrush can be a thick white patch or small white patches

Milk tongue vs thrush 

Thrush is often overlooked as milk tongue by medical professionals which is why it’s imperative to see a lactation consultant if you can.

The difference between milk tongue and thrush is that thrush patches can’t be easily wiped off. If you are able to wipe off any of the white coating it will be red and raw underneath. 

To test this, use a washcloth and dampen it with water. Gently wipe a white area in your baby’s mouth. If they have a white coating on their tongue this will be easier. 

If nothing comes off the chances are higher that your baby has thrush. It could also be a stubborn milk tongue which is why it’s a good idea to see a lactation consultant for a correct diagnosis.

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Treatment 

Sometimes it’s hard to get into see a lactation consultant. If this is the case, you need to be seen by your doctor and your baby should be seen by their pediatrician. You may get lucky and one doctor can prescribe medication for both of you. 

Once you get the thrush diagnosis, it’s best that both of you take medication even if both of you don’t have symptoms. Thrush is highly contagious so the chances of you passing it to your baby (or vice versa) are very high. 

Both you and your baby need to be treated at the same time even if one of you have no symptoms

It’s also important to continue the entire course of medication

If you stop taking your medicine because your symptoms are gone it can come right back.

To cope with pain try:

  • Short frequent feedings
  • Ice on nipple before nursing
  • Start nursing on the less painful side
  • Advil, Ibuprofen, or Tylenol
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 1 cup water- swab on nipples every hour while awake

These methods can be used with any of the following treatment options. 

Quick tip: Vinegar does not kill yeast. It only makes it more difficult for the yeast to grow by changing the pH of your skin. 

Note: I am not a doctor and do NOT give medical advice. Consult with your doctor before taking ANY medications. This article is intended to be for informational purposes only.

GrapeFRUIT seed extract (GSE)

This is a natural option that’s extremely effective at treating thrush and doesn’t require a prescription. It can be found at natural food stores like Whole Foods or ordered online.

For a natural home remedy, this would be the best starting point. Most often the relief from pain is swift which will make breastfeeding enjoyable again. 

GSE is effective at treating bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, making it a great natural remedy for many conditions. Overall, this is a handy product to keep in your home for many reasons. 

The active ingredient has to be Citricidal for it to be effective against thrush. It’s also important to use distilled water because it has less chemicals than tap water which would make it less effective.

For this treatment option:

  • Mix 10 drops of GSE with 30mL (1 ounce) of distilled water
  • Swab your baby’s mouth with a Q-tip before each nursing session
  • Apply it to your nipples after each nursing session

Apply the GSE every hour you and your little one are awake. 

If you taste everything before you give it to your baby you’ll notice the nasty taste. That’s why you swab their mouth before nursing to wash the nastiness away and so they don’t associate the nasty taste with breastfeeding.

GSE does have a tendency to dry the skin. To solve this problem you can apply coconut oil or vitamin E oil to both nipples and areolas 3 times a day after the GSE has dried. 

Quick tip: Avoid using Lansinoh nipple cream during this time because it forms a seal of moisture trapping the thrush which helps it thrive. 

Coconut oil is an antifungal and antibacterial so it’s safe if you nurse your baby before it’s completely absorbed. Make sure the coconut oil is unrefined and organic which is its most natural form. 

Try this treatment option for at least 2 days. If your symptoms haven’t improved, increase the GSE to either 15 or 20 drops in one ounce of distilled water. 

GSE also comes in a pill form. The typical dosage is 250mg 3 times a day but you should follow the directions on your bottle.

The oral form of grapefruit interacts negatively with many medications so check for any drug interactions before taking the pill form of GSE. 

Quick tip: If you decide to take the pill form of GSE you should also still be treating your nipples with the GSE solution or a topical cream.

Gentian Violet 

This is an old option that still remains very effective for the treatment of thrush. It is hard to find so call before you run out to pick up a bottle from a pharmacy. 

I was able to find the last bottle at a CVS pharmacy. 

It is very important to make sure that it’s the 1% solution. Gentian violet is commonly sold in the US as a 2% solution which is too strong and can cause sores in the mouth.

Gentian violet can easily be diluted by mixing equal parts gentian violet with equal parts water. For example, mix 3mL of gentian violet with 3mL of water. 

A recent study has also linked it to mouth cancer, but many health professionals still recommend it for short term use because it is so effective.  

Quick tip: For 1% solution use no more than 4 days. For 0.5% solution use no more than 7 days. 

It also contains a small amount of alcohol. But you use such a small amount that the alcohol is insignificant. 

This is very messy! It will stain any and everything it touches. 

Quick tip: Before applying, wear old clothes that you don’t mind being stained and apply coconut oil to your baby’s face to minimize staining. 

Use a cotton ball to dab the gentian violet on both nipples and part of the areola that goes in your baby’s mouth. You could also swab your baby’s mouth with a Q-tip and then nurse on both sides to coat your nipples. 

There’s no need to do both.

Apply gentian violet once a day before bed (the last feeding in the evening is best). Only use this method for 4 to 7 days depending on the strength of your solution. 

Continue using for at least 4 days to notice any improvement. If your symptoms aren’t better after 7 days stop treatment.

After applying gentian violet using coconut oil

All-purpose nipple ointment (APNO)

This is a prescription only combination cream containing an antifungal, an antibacterial, and an anti-inflammatory. 

Antifungal

This kills any yeast such as thrush.

Antibacterial 

This will help stop and prevent the growth of any bacteria. 

Anti-inflammatory 

This will help alleviate pain by reducing swelling and irritation of the skin. 

Use the APNO as directed by your doctor. 

Typically you are to apply a small amount to your nipples after nursing your baby. It does not need to be cleaned off before your next nursing session.

You may begin feeling better in a few days. After a few weeks if you’re not seeing results you should contact your healthcare provider. 

Quick tip: If you want to use APNO with gentian violet, apply the APNO after every feeding except the last feeding of the night when you apply the gentian violet.

Nystatin

This is typically the first medication prescribed. It is an antifungal that comes in multiple forms such as liquid, powder or cream. 

The liquid form can be applied to your nipples and your baby’s mouth. You do not have to wipe it off your nipples before feeding your baby

We started out with a prescription for liquid Nystatin. I was to apply 2 milliliters to her mouth 4 times a day by putting 1 milliliter in each cheek with the syringe. 

When I made it back home and looked on the internet, I saw other moms were advised to apply it with a Q-tip and swab it around their baby’s mouth. 

That sounded better to me instead of just squirting the medicine in her mouth for her to swallow.

I swabbed the Nystatin around her mouth 4 times a day after nursing with a Q-tip for 10 days. I paid close attention to the white areas to make sure I got those nice and coated with medicine. 

During this time I was also treating myself with the same liquid Nystatin. I was instructed to apply it to my nipples 4 times a day as well after feedings

Even though Nystatin is commonly prescribed it isn’t very effective. To get the babies to take the medication they made it more sugary, which is also what yeast loves. 

The nystatin is encouraging the yeast to stick around instead of kicking it to the curb. 

Unfortunately, after 10 days we still had all of our same symptoms.

Fluconazole

This is the most effective prescription treatment and usually reserved as a last resort. 

It is recommended to take 2 tablets (400 mg) the first day and 1 tablet (200 mg) for the remainder of the 2 weeks. 

Most times both you and your baby will take fluconazole together if other treatment options weren’t effective.

My daughter was prescribed a Fluconazole liquid that I was to swab around her mouth once a day. 

You should also still be treating your nipples with a topical cream like APNO or Lotrimin AF while taking Fluconazole. 

Treatment usually lasts for 2 weeks or longer. It is safe to continue breastfeeding while taking Fluconazole. 

My daughter and I continued treatment with Fluconazole for 3 weeks before the thrush was finally out of our household. 

Quick tip: Fluconazole can not be taken with oral grapefruit seed extract but you can continue using the GSE solution on your nipples.

Prevention

To keep from reinfecting yourself and your baby you should:

  • Wash everything that comes in contact with your breast, milk, or your baby’s mouth in hot water 
  • Use vinegar or grapefruit seed extract in your washing machine to help stop the growth of yeast
  • Change your breast pads frequently or use disposable breast pads
  • Sanitize baby items daily and breast pump parts. Do this for the entire course of treatment to be safe 
  • Use a clean towel each time you take a bath or shower 
  • Wash your hands and your baby’s hands frequently
  • Keep nipples clean and dry
  • Take a probiotic
  • Limit sugar in your diet 
  • Expose your nipples to sunlight if you won’t get in trouble for indecent exposure

Since yeast is naturally found in our bodies, it’s tricky to get it under control and keep it at bay. These tips will help you not get thrush again.

Diaper rash

A yeast diaper rash can be hard to get rid of. Signs of a yeast diaper rash include:

  • Dark red and slightly raised border
  • Small red bumps or pimples
  • Not cured after 3 days of diaper rash treatment
  • Rash may be in skin folds and up to lower stomach

I used this diaper balm to get rid of my daughter’s yeast diaper rash. You can also apply Monistat cream or Lotrimin AF at each diaper change. 

If you’re seeing results with GSE, apply the same strength solution you’re using for your nipples to your baby’s bottom. Use a spray bottle or washcloth to coat the diaper area at every diaper change. 

You can also apply gentian violet to the diaper area once daily at bedtime as well for 4-7 days. Avoid using breast milk on a yeast diaper rash because yeast loves sugar.

Letting your baby’s bottom air out is great as well. We had leftover puppy pads from potty training our Yorkie so we placed one on her play mat and let her lay there diaper free for about 15 minutes a day. 

For cloth diapers use bleach and hot water. You may even want to consider using disposable diapers until the thrush is gone.

Can you still breastfeed? 

Yes! Thrush is very painful, but try to keep breastfeeding. You can even pump if that will be less painful for you.

Don’t worry about giving it to your baby because chances are they’ve already been exposed even if they aren’t showing any symptoms.

During treatment, it is completely safe to keep breastfeeding your baby. If you’re pumping remember to sanitize all of your pump parts once a day that come into contact with milk.

Does thrush affect milk supply?

Thrush may reduce your milk supply because it’s more painful to breastfeed so you may try to avoid nursing as much as you can. 

Try pumping to keep your supply up.

What about frozen breast milk? 

Research has shown that freezing breast milk does not kill yeast it only deactivates it. If you’re building a freezer stash you may want to stop collecting milk until treatment is finished. 

Write a huge “T” on the bag if it was collected while you have thrush. 

Scalding the milk before using it may kill the yeast but research hasn’t confirmed that. 

Another possible option is to dilute pumped thrush milk with freshly pumped breast milk. You can easily do this by catching some milk in your Haakaa and mixing it with unthawed breast milk. 

Whatever you decide don’t throw away your milk!

Famous last words…

Thrush is a frustrating experience that feels like it’ll never end. But once you get through this battle you’ll feel so amazing you overcame such a huge hurdle. 

If you feel like your healthcare provider isn’t taking your concerns seriously go to someone else. 

Don’t let the pain force you to stop your breastfeeding journey before you’re ready to.

Grab your crush thrush blueprint!

Be prepared to fight thrush with the power of knowledge and persistence
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how to quickly treat thrush while breastfeeding

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