What Is Thrush? One of Breastfeeding’s Challenges, Explained

Source: @dmcab via #sharetheeverymom
Source: @dmcab via #sharetheeverymom

There are plenty of confusing and sometimes stressful elements to breastfeeding. While it can be a beautiful bonding experience between mom and baby, it is also very common to encounter issues along the way. Perhaps as you started to breastfeed you heard all sorts of scary terms and symptoms to look out for, like thrush, mastitis, blocked ducts, and so on.

Breastfeeding can be painful and challenging at times. Discomfort during breastfeeding can be normal and is something many women experience. However, extreme pain is not a normal part of breastfeeding, and if you are experiencing pain beyond general discomfort, there are certain warning signs to look out for.  Read on to understand the symptoms of a thrush infection and what to do if you have one.


What is thrush?

Thrush is a fungal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of candida, a yeast-like organism. If there is an excessive amount of this organism, it can lead to a candida infection known as thrush. A thrush infection can occur in the nipple, areola, and/or breast and can then infect your baby’s mouth during breastfeeding.

Thrush doesn’t only occur during breastfeeding. Women may experience thrush in their mouth, gut, vagina, or other skin surfaces. Candida tends to thrive in warm and moist environments, so it makes sense that this could occur during breastfeeding.



What are the symptoms of thrush?

Thrush symptoms for the mother can be extremely painful.

According to La Leche League, symptoms for the mother may include:

  • Itching and burning nipple pain
  • Flaky or shiny skin on the nipple or areola
  • Cracked nipples
  • Shooting pain in the breast that occurs during or after feedings
  • Pain does not improve with better latch or positioning

Thrush is easily passed from mother to baby, and it’s important to look for symptoms in your baby as well.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website HealthyChildren.org, symptoms for baby may include:

  • White patches inside their cheeks, on their tongue, and/or along their gums that aren’t easily wiped away
  • Visible discomfort and decreased sucking and reduced milk intake during feedings

There are lots of reasons you may feel discomfort or pain during breastfeeding. Whether it is thrush or another issue, you should consult your doctor or a lactation consultant right away. While some breastfeeding issues can be cured naturally, thrush requires specific treatment.


How to treat thrush

The pain of thrush can commonly lead to women halting their breastfeeding efforts sooner than they might have otherwise chosen to. If you are experiencing thrush, know that there is treatment, and you can continue breastfeeding during and after treatment if you so choose to. Even though you can continue to breastfeed while treating thrush, Donna Murray, RN, BSN advised in Very Well Family that you should not store expressed breast milk during this time as candida will stay present in the milk, even if frozen.



There are various medications to treat thrush that are safe to take while breastfeeding. Consult your doctor, as they can prescribe medication. Make sure that your baby takes medication for thrush too, otherwise the thrush may return and spread back and forth during breastfeeding sessions.

In addition to medication, there are other steps you can take to help heal and hopefully avoid future thrush infections.

  • Wash your hands and sterilize everything your baby puts in their mouth (like pacifiers, bottles, and teething toys).
  • Limit pacifier usage until baby really needs it.
  • Aim to keep your nipples clean and dry between feedings. If you use breast pads, change them frequently (same goes for nursing bras, keep them clean and dry).
  • Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates as these can exacerbate thrush. Aim to eat a diet rich in vitamins and minerals.

Thrush can be painful and can make it extra challenging to breastfeed. Continuing to breastfeed through the pain of thrush is not easy, but it is possible. Know that with proper treatment and care, you can get back to a comfortable breastfeeding experience.

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