Treating Yeast Infections in Breastfeeding

Nursing baby holding finger
Photo © Vast Photography

A yeast infection while breastfeeding is fairly common. Some women will get yeast on their nipples, others will have it in the milk ducts. In a baby, an oral yeast infection is called thrush. Yeast infections are also known as candida infections.

While most of us are colonized with yeast, an overgrowth can occur, thus causing symptoms. Symptoms in the baby are generally white patches that do not scrape off or the baby may have a diaper rash that doesn't seem to be caused by anything like diapers left on for lengthy periods.

(Sometimes you will see milk patches on the tongue.) For a mother, the symptoms include:

Prevention is the ideal way to treat yeast infections, and the best way to do this is to ensure a good latch when breastfeeding from the moment of birth. Keeping mom and baby skin to skin, while learning to nurse can be helpful at ensuring a proper latch. You can also have lactation consultants visit with each nursing pair to help with latch and positioning, prior to anyone thinking that there is a problem. This can help prevent a yeast infection because a good latch will decrease the risk of the tissue breaking down on the nipple, which is a prime location for the growth of yeast.

Antibiotic use can also lead to an overgrowth of candida. Many laboring women are given antibiotics in labor or during a cesarean birth.

This may increase the likelihood that they will have a yeast infection. You may want to talk to the mom about the risks of a yeast infection and what signs and symptoms to watch for after the baby's birth.

"I didn't know what was going on. It was my third baby and I knew how to breastfeed," explained a mom of three.

"When my pediatrician asked how breastfeeding was going, I told her that I wanted to claw my eyes out every time my baby wanted to nurse. Thankfully, within a few questions, she had a diagnosis and I was well on my way to feeling better. She saved our breastfeeding relationship with a dose of Diflucan."

Fluconazole (Diflucan) is a medication that can be prescribed by your doctor or the pediatrician to help you with the symptoms of a yeast infection. This is an oral medication in pill form. Sometimes it can be just one or two doses depending on the symptoms and medical history. This is a great way to treat ductal yeast infections. Nystatin is an oral suspension that can be used to treat babies orally or topically for nipples. There is also a Nystatin diaper cream.

Topical yeast infections on the skin may be better treated with topical agents. Also letting the nipples dry before putting on your bra, changing your nursing pads frequently, and not using plastic-backed nursing pads.

Sometimes yeast is persistent.

Talk to your practitioner for help in eradicating yeast, which may include things other than medication.

Sources:

Mohrbacher, N., Stock, J. BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK. Schaumburg, Illinois: LLLI, 1997.

Lawrence, R. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, 7th edition. St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Company, 2011.

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