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Breastfeeding Pain Diagnosis: Yeast Infection and Thrush

I would love to tell you that breastfeeding is always easy, but unfortunately that is not always the case.  When you look up the word tenacious (te·na·cious) in the dictionary, I picture the nursing mother who has been tried by the challenges that sometimes come with breastfeeding.

Today, I am addressing a challenge that literally tries a mom by fire, yeast infections.  Yeast on nipples often exhibits itself as a burning sensation and sharp shooting pains in the breast even in-between feedings.   If you have pain only during the feeding, you need to address the latch.  Yeast naturally occurs in our bodies, but the overgrowth of yeast often as a result of oral or IV antibiotics can be a real challenge.  The good news is that it is fairly easy to diagnose and curing the overgrowth is manageable, especially if you know how to avoid a recurring incidence.

Lets start with the diagnosis.  As I said, the mother with yeast will normally have burning sensation on her nipples and sharp shooting pain in her breast during and in-between feedings.  Yeast is highly contagious so if you are experiencing these symptoms, check your baby for thrush in the mucosa lining of the mouth, not just white patched on the tongue which could be milk.  The baby might also have a bright red diaper rash.  NOTE:  Mom's nipples might not be red nor have a white spot and baby may have absolutely no symptoms and mom can still have a yeast infection if she has the burning, sharp shooting pain.  In either case if yeast is diagnosed, both mom AND baby must be treated simultaneously even if baby is asymptomatic otherwise the pair continue to pass the yeast infection back and forth and curing it becomes extremely difficult.

There are a few ways to diagnose yeast.  Initially the visual and pain cues I described before can lead you to suspect yeast.  Second, you can see your doctor: but if the thrush is not visible, he may have to test for the fungal bacteria which could delay your treatment.  The easiest way to check for a yeast infection on the nipples is to wash your hands and apply Gyne-lotrimin (clotrimazole) or Monistat (miconazole nitrate) to dry nipples after each feeding for 24 hours to see if your pain is starting to diminish.  You will find this with the vaginal yeast treatment in most drug store and heath and beauty section of grocery stores.  Make sure that the one you are purchasing is not just in suppositories, but has a tube that you can use like a breast cream.  If the pain is beginning to diminish (you are not yet cured) within 24-48 hours, it is most likely a yeast infection.

You have a yeast infection on your nipples.  What's next?

1.  After each feeding, air dry or sun dry nipples before applying the clotrimazole or miconazole with clean hands.  You can air-dry nipples by fanning them with your nursing pad, allowing them to dry naturally or use the sun or even a blow dryer on a cool setting if you are in a hurry.  These anti-fungals absorb in the skin within 15 minutes, so there is no need to wash them off before the next feeding.  It is not advisable to wash your nipples with a washrag when you are breastfeeding as you can actually remove the protective keratin layer on your nipples.

2.  Seek treatment for the baby.  Remember that mom and baby must be treated simultaneously even if one or the other does not have symptoms.  There are over the counter treatments for thrush in the baby such as gentian violet, but it quite messy so I recommend calling the pediatrician for oral Nystatin and following the directions.

3.  Change habits to promote healing.  Always use nursing pads to avoid contaminating your bras and only breathable disposable nursing pads.  We do not sell them, but we recommend Lansinoh and Ameda Nursing Pads as they do not harbor yeast.  Some pads have a plastic lining or are made with products that do not promote breath-ability, so stick to these brands to be safe.  You can find Lansinoh in most stores.  Wash hands frequently and sterilize breast pump parts, bottles, nipples, nipple shields, feeding syringes with each use.  Normally due to the anti-fungal properties of breast milk, you only have to sterilize breast pump parts once per day, but better safe than sorry!
In addition eating habits needs to be curved during a yeast infection.  Mom should eliminate wheat, refined sugar, alcohol and honey to promote a healthier intestinal flora instead of feeding the overgrowth of yeast.

4.  Complete treatmentGive the Nystatin and Gyne-lotrimin or Monistat a full week to 10 days for treatment.  If both mom and baby are now symptom-free, treat for 3 additional days to know out any residual infection and remove any items that may be prone to harboring yeast.

What do I need to discard to avoid re-occurrence of yeast?

- breast cream 
Moms usually will put breast cream on the second nipple with the same finger they used to apply to the first nipple.  So unless you washed you hands between applications, the breast cream or coconut oil has go to go!
- washable nursing pads
You cannot kill yeast by washing or boiling.  The only thing that will kill yeast is an anti-fungal so pitch the washable nursing pads you used while you had symptoms!
- breast pump parts
Any breast pump parts that have come into contact with the breast milk must be scratch-free or non-porous.  If you used a bottle brush to clean your parts, pitch everything.  If you washed them carefully, get rid of valve membranes, duckbill valves, bottle nipples and replace any filters or back-flow protectors as well.
- feeding supplies
If you used a bottle brush to clean your bottles, pitch everything.  If they were washed with a soft cloth or in the dishwasher, you can just discard bottle nipples and some brands have rubbery sealing discs.  Even baby feeding syringes have a rubber plunger, so if you used one to feed breastmilk or give medicine, discard it and replace.
- breast milk
Any breast milk that you pumped during your yeast infection must be given to the baby during the first week of treatment.  During the three days that you are treating the yeast to avoid recurrence, only feed the baby directly from the breast, freshly expressed breast milk or milk frozen prior to the initiation of the yeast symptoms.

Here is to putting out the fire!


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