Long before I had children I was a nanny. I had many families I nannied for but one family was particularly close to my heart. I was only with them for a short time as circumstances had it that the father got into a higher education business program shortly after I started with them so they were moving, and the mother decided to stop her job as a teacher to stay at home.

But one thing that both the mother and the baby experienced early on in this little girl’s life was something that I would take with me well into my own mothering experience. I know, it sounds like it's going to be some sentimental memory or moment but instead it was something that when my first daughter was born I thought, “Oh my gosh, I hope we don’t get it!” And that something was thrush.

The reason that this stuck with me so much was because of how much pain it caused both the mom and the baby. I remember trying to give this little one antibiotics while the mom had tears streaming down her face each time she nursed. On top of that, she was a first-time mom who had never nursed before and was pumping on top of nursing because she worked all day. And I always thought to myself, “Well, if this is what breastfeeding is like, I’m never doing it.”

But as I got older and learned more about the benefits of breastfeeding I realized that the risk of getting thrush was worth giving my little one the best nutrition possible. And although we did end up thrush (at least once with each of my three daughters), it was still worth it. Painful? Yes. Annoying to deal with on top of having a baby and/or other children? Also yes. But although it is common occurrence with breastfeeding moms, its not something that will stop you from nursing.

So what is thrush?

According to Cleveland Clinic, Thrush is a fungal or yeast infection that is often found in the throat or the mouth, but it can also grow on other parts of your body. It is caused by the overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida, and the formal name for thrush is called candidiasis.

Although thrush is annoying and can be somewhat painful, it is generally very easy to treat and goes away within a few weeks. Babies under one month old, toddlers, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk. It is contagious with close contact like kissing and breastfeeding, so many breastfeeding mothers will get thrush on their nipples if their baby gets it. That is why it is important for both mother and baby to seek treatment for thrush when it occurs. However, it is not contagious in the sense that you can get it if you are sitting next to someone with thrush or if they touch you with their hands (unless their hands have been in their mouth and then they put their hands in your mouth (we’re looking at your toddlers)).

Thrush usually occurs when illness, stress, or other medications alter the natural balance of candida fungus in the mouth, digestive tract, or skin. If you are nursing and your baby has thrush, it is important that you both seek treatment because if you just treat your baby, it is more than likely that thrush will reoccur even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms because the infection is located on your body.

In addition, it is often difficult to get rid of thrush because you and your baby are constantly passing it back and forth, especially if you continue to nurse.

How to identify thrush

Thrush is generally pretty easy to identify. It looks a lot like cottage cheese. You will often seen raised white bumps and lesions on the cheeks, tongue, and inside of your mouth. They can also appear on the roof of your mouth, the gums, or your tonsils. Other symptoms include:

Redness and soreness at the inside and the corners of your mouth

  • Inability to taste
  • Dry mouth
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling that food is stuck in your chest or middle of your throat
  • Fever

Breastfeeding with thrush-Is it safe?

Yes! It is safe to breastfeed if you and/or your child have thrush. However, don’t be discouraged if your little one, especially if they are an itty bitty baby, has a difficult time with it. Often times thrush can be painful- the lesions and sores inside the mouth can become inflamed, making it difficult to suck and swallow. But with proper treatment, you should be able to continue breastfeeding. And what better way to keep your baby healthy than with your own breastmilk which will actually change to fight infection (but that’s a topic for another day)!

In addition to your baby possibly not feeling like breastfeeding, you may want to throw in the towel, too. Thrush can be painful for mom, and breastfeeding soon becomes something you dread instead of something you cherish. You can always take a break by pumping to keep up your supply or simply power through if you’re able. With adequate treatment, you should be well on your way to feeling better in no time.

The symptoms of thrush for a breastfeeding mom are often a bit different than what you might see in a baby since thrush will appear on your breasts and not in your mouth (unless they stick their hands in their mouth and then in yours which is not out of the realm of possibility with tiny babies and toddlers). Here are some of the symptoms mom might experience if baby has thrush:

  • Breast and nipple plain to include burning, itching, pins and needles type of feelings, sharp, stabbing pain, or pain deep in your breast
  • Inflammation of the nipples and areola, or redness on the breast
  • Skin changes- You might see small white bumps around your nipples, or your nipples might become shiny or flaky

In addition to these symptoms and the symptoms listed above for your baby, your little one might also get a diaper rash which in and of itself can be quite painful for them. Using a natural diaper ointment like coconut oil is often helpful to decrease the pain while wearing a diaper. You can also let your baby go diaper-free for a bit so that they in aren’t in wet, warm, moist environment, which yeast LOVES.

How to get rid of thrush naturally

Typical treatment for thrush is an anti-fungal prescription. Since thrush is the result of an imbalance of Candida, which is a fungus, antifungals are often prescribed. Most often babies are prescribed an oral medication like Nystatin and mothers will apply a topical Nystatin cream to their nipples. But there are ways to help prevent thrush and get rid of it- naturally.

Thrush is a yeast infection and yeast love warm and wet environments. To help prevent an imbalance of Candida, it is important that you practice good hygiene for you and your baby. Things like:

  • Washing your hands often
  • Making sure that your breast pads are clean and dry
  • Making sure your nursing bras are clean and dry
  • Change your baby’s diaper often

But, if you already have thrush, you can try to help get rid of it by:

  • Washing your baby’s clothing in a solution of hot water and vinegar to kill off the yeast
  • Wash anything that comes in contact with your baby’s mouth like bottle nipples, pacifiers, toys, etc in boiling water to sanitize them.
  • Wash your nipples with a vinegar (1 part) and water (4 parts) solution after nursing. Allow them to air dry. And if you can, put them in direct sunlight for a few minutes each day.
  • Try a probiotic supplement to help balance the level of Candida in your body
  • Limit sugar in your diet- yeast thrives on sugar so lower the amount you eat when you have thrush
  • Gentian violet- This is a liquid that you swab on your nipples and in your baby’s mouth. It is natural and can be found over the counter in many natural food stores.
  • All-Purpose Nipple Ointment by Dr. Jack Newman- this is a natural anti-fungal and corticosteroid that helps to treat nipple pain, swelling, and infections from yeast or bacteria.

In many cases, moms will have to opt for a prescription anti-fungal medication for herself and her baby. This is because once you realize you have thrush, it’s too late- chances are that both you and your baby have it and have been passing it back and forth for some time. But after one round of medication, you can help prevent a reoccurrence by following the above tips and advice.

Thrush can be painful but it is fairly common and something many women are able to get through without much medical intervention. As always, consult your doctor before you start any treatment at home. If thrush keeps reoccurring, check with your doctor and continue to sanitize your items and your baby’s items.