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Ask an Expert: Preventing Thrush

by Robin Kaplan, IBCLC

Fan Question:

“Any suggestions to prevent thrush?? I seem to get it with each baby….”

Thrush can be a total bummer, especially when it is difficult to get rid of.  For those that are unfamiliar with this term, thrush is a yeast infection most commonly caused by the fungus Candida albicans.  The symptoms can present in both mom and baby.  Typical symptoms for thrush in mom are: burning sensation in the nipple while feeding and in between feedings; pink nipples, and possible vaginal yeast infection.  Typical symptoms in baby are: white, raised cauliflower-like patches on the gums, cheeks, and back of the tongue; diaper rash with red sores, and sometimes excessive gas. Not all babies show signs of thrush when mom has thrush.

How does one get thrush?

Well, just like a vaginal yeast infection, thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in your gut.  Breastfeeding moms may often find that they get thrush after a dose of antibiotics.  This is because antibiotics kill NOT ONLY the bad bacteria in your gut, but also the good bacteria.  Yeast loves when there is an absence of good bacteria in your gut, as it is now the perfect breeding ground to multiply and aim for mucus membranes (your breasts being one of them).  One can also get thrush from unresolved cracked nipples that have taken a while to heal.  Moms and babies who also have inflammation, such as those causes by a food intolerance which limits the absorption of important nutrients, or are just temporarily dealing with a compromised immune system, are also more susceptible to thrush.

So how does one prevent thrush?

First and foremost, if you or your baby are given a course of antibiotics during labor (think GBS-positive or cesarean birth) throughout the time you are breastfeeding, you want to start a course of probiotics immediately.  Research shows that probiotics replace the good bacteria in your gut and help to fight the overgrowth of yeast. (Drisko 2003, Payne 2003, Kopp-Hoolihan 2001, Lykova 2000.)  Not all probiotics are the same.  Probiotics are alive, so you will want to find refrigerated ones at a health food store or from a holistic doctor or chiropractor. Most likely those that have been sitting on the shelf for a while, or those created by formula companies, are not the best quality. Kellymom has a great article about using probiotics to prevent thrush.

Second, if you are more prone to yeast infections, lay off the sugary baked goods and food items during those early postpartum weeks.  Your body has been pushed to the limit at the end of your pregnancy through labor and delivery, which can tax your immune system.  If your immune system is feeling run down, it has a difficult time fighting off things like infections and yeast.  Also, if you have food intolerances to dairy and gluten, stay away from those foods as eating them could lower your delicate immune system, as well, making you more susceptible to thrush.

If you have a cracked nipple for longer than a few days, seek the assistance of an IBCLC to find out why your nipple is not healing and how to remedy your pain and nipple abrasion.  The sooner you can heal your nipple, the faster you decrease your risk for thrush.

There are many ways to treat thrush holistically.  Some great remedies can be found on the San Diego Breastfeeding Center’s article: Common Concerns While Breastfeeding – Yikes!  Why Are My Nipples Burning?  If you are having a difficult time treating your thrush outbreak, definitely consider meeting with am IBCLC to make sure that you are actually dealing with thrush, rather than vasospasms, which can often present similar symptoms, but are immune to the thrush remedies.

unnamedRobin Kaplan is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), owner of the San Diego Breastfeeding Center, frequent media commentator on the topic of breastfeeding, and host of The Boob Group, a weekly podcast about breastfeeding.

Robin is also an active advocate for mothers and their legal right to breastfeed. She is a prolific writer and presenter on breastfeeding topics. She was the founding co-editor of the International Lactation Consultant Association’s (ILCA) blog, Lactation Matters, and curates The Sanity Spot, the San Diego Breastfeeding Center’s popular blog.  Robin is also the founder of the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force and a newly appointed Take Action Ambassador for Best for Babes.

Robin lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, Jason, their two sons, Benjamin and Ryan, and their dog, Tilly. She loves traveling, hiking, going to the beach, social media, and perusing cookbooks for hours upon end.