Breastfeeding Concerns: What is Thrush?

Have you noticed that breastfeeding is more difficult than you imagined it would be? Every mom experiences nursing differently, but if you think you and your baby may have an infection, it could be thrush.

What is Thrush?

Thrush is a relatively common fungal infection which may affect both nursing mothers and their babies; it is often passed from mother to child, but formula-fed babies can also develop thrush. This infection occurs when levels of Candida, a yeast fungus which is found in the body normally become atypically high.  It is common in babies because their immune systems are still developing.

What are the Symptoms of Thrush?

It’s important to know the symptoms of thrush so you can recognize it and make sure you and your baby are treated properly.

In the mother, symptoms may include:

  • pain during and after a feeding
  • red and/or shiny areolas
  • burning, shooting pains in one or both breasts
  • itchy, cracked, or sensitive nipples (these particular symptoms may be the reult of a poor latch, as opposed to thrush)

In the baby, thrush symptoms may include:

  • refusing to be fed or fussing during feeds
  • a white film on Baby’s tongue (this may simply be milk and will come and go as your child feeds; thrush is characterized by a thicker film that is constant)
  • white patches in the mouth (gums, roof of mouth or inside cheeks)

What to do if my Baby and/or I Have Thrush?

Sometimes thrush goes away on its own, but if symtoms worsen, or you’re concerned, you should visit your healthcare provider to be treated. Breasfeeding moms and babies should always both be treated for thrush to prevent passing the infection back and forth. The usual treatment is a cream for Mom and anti-fungal drops or gel for Baby. Pills are sometimes prescribed for severe thrush infections in the mother.

Please note that it’s easy to confuse the symptoms of a less than perfect latch with thrush, particularly if you’re new to breastfeeding or have always experiencd breast and nipple pain.  It’s always worth attending your local breastfeeding support group and asking for a lactation consultant or health visitor to check your baby’s latch as well as checking for thrush. Additionally, if you have a fever or your breasts are red and inflamed, this could signify a badly clogged duct or mastitis and should be checked out by a doctor.

What Can I do to Prevent Thrush?

As with anything, prevention is better than cure and there are some everyday measures you can take to minimize your riskof contracting thrus:

  • ensure any bottles or pacifiers used are sterilized regularly
  • wash all toys your baby chews in hot water or sterilize them
  • change breast pads regularly and wash reusable pads at a high temperature as low temperatures do not always kill thrush.
  • eat unsweetened yogurt
  • limit the amount of sugar and yeast-containing foods you eat

Remember, if you’re at all worried about thrush or any other pain you’re experiencing, always speak to your doctor or healthcare provider.