Treating Thrush

Thrush in a child who had taken antibiotics. Author: James Heilman, M.D. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

It’s whispered on the playground, spoken of in hushed tones at Mommy ‘n Me, and brought up with embarrassment at pediatrician visits. That’s right, you’ve been there haven’t you? Thrush! It isn’t fun, and it isn’t pretty. Whether your first sign is nipple pain, a yeast infection of your own, an awful diaper rash in your baby, or the white in your baby’s mouth, this common malady in babies and mamas is not fun, but it is treatable.

According to Mayo Clinic, this infection can pass back and forth between mama and baby during breastfeeding and the symptoms for the mother include:

  • Red, sensitive nipples. They often turn a deep pink/red color, and may crack or itch.
  • The areola may be shiny or be flaky.
  • Nursing is painful, or the nipples hurt when you are not breastfeeding.
  • Deep, stabbing pains in the breast itself

I’ve been there with my first and with my second, and both times the original infection happened vaginally. This is part of the reason it is so important to work quickly to get rid of a vaginal infection – not only because they are extremely uncomfortable, but also because you really don’t want to experience thrush, nor have your baby experience it either.

You can go to the doctor, and you probably should, but there are also some known “home remedies” that I’ve used myself in the past. Keep in mind, I’m not diagnosing or treating any diseases here, I’m just sharing what has worked for me in the past. Make sure you check with your doctor first before doing anything yourself!

Since yeast thrives on sugars, eliminating sugar, fruit, and carbs from your diet will certainly go a long way toward fighting off this infection. On top of that, here are a few things you can try:

  1. Use essential oils – Studies have actually shown Melaleuca alternifolia (also known as Tea Tree Oil) as well as Angelica major to be effective in reducing yeast. I personally combined coconut oil with melaleuca alternifolia to apply topically, and if nothing else I found the effect to help soothe the pain and itch.
  2. Use probiotics – Studies have shown probiotic usage reduces candida, at least orally. I would apply to my nipples in a sort of paste, and after a few minutes I’d let my little one nurse and thus get some of the probiotic herself.
  3. Use yogurt – just make sure you don’t make the mistake of using yogurt with fruit or sugar added. Plain, unsweetened yogurt can be eaten or applied topically (I went the topical route).  I’ve read of people putting yogurt in the freezer in a tampon applicator and I tried this myself for a vaginal infection but found it to be super messy and not very effective.  Try at your own risk!
  4. Use garlic – I’ve been told by a number of people to try garlic – eating it, using cloves, etc. This study did not find any difference in those using garlic (orally, at least), but I figure it couldn’t hurt anything to use it in conjunction with everything else right? I used garlic tablets when I didn’t have any fresh garlic available, and I’ve also tried cloves vaginally overnight (uncomfortable and I have no idea if they actually helped or not, but again, it didn’t hurt anything!) for a vaginal infection.
  5. If all else fails, you can always use an antifungal – whether one you get in the store, or one you get from your doctor, if you have a yeast infection or thrush that just isn’t going away via natural treatments, you may want to consider using medication. I’m not a big fan of using medications, but the good news is most medications are safe for breastfeeding women (check with your doctor – let him or her know you want to continue to breastfeed, and also check with your local LLL if your doctor isn’t sure or tells you not to breastfeed.  Doctors sometimes tell you not to even when you can, because they are being cautious.  LLL can direct you to good sources for this information. Here is also a good resource.).

Also remember to wash your clothes and diapers on hot – yeast can live in the cloth of that nursing bra or cloth diaper and cause reinfection.

Be well, mamas, and let us know – what have you tried and what have you been successful with in treating thrush?

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