A fungal infection, also called a yeast infection or thrush, can form on your nipples or in your breast because it thrives on milk. The infection forms from an overgrowth of the candida organism. Candida usually exists in our bodies and is kept at healthy levels by the natural bacteria in our bodies. When the natural balance of bacteria is upset, candida can overgrow, causing an infection. A key sign of a fungal infection on your nipples or in the breast is if you develop sore nipples that last more than a few days even after you make sure your baby has a good latch and positioning, or you suddenly get sore nipples after several weeks of unpainful breastfeeding. Some other signs of a fungal infection include pink, flaky, shiny, itchy or cracked nipples, or deep pink and blistered nipples. You also could have shooting pains deep in the breast during or after feedings, or achy breasts.
Some of the things that can cause thrush include: having an overly moist environment on your skin or nipples that are sore or cracked; taking antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids; having a diet that contains large amounts of sugar or foods with yeast; or having a chronic illness like HIV infection, diabetes, or anemia.
The infection also can form in your baby’s mouth from having contact with your nipples, and appear as little white spots on the inside of the cheeks, gums, or tongue. This is called thrush. Many babies with thrush refuse to nurse, or are gassy or cranky. A baby’s fungal infection can also appear as a diaper rash that looks like small red dots around a rash. This rash will not go away by using regular diaper rash ointments.
Ask for help if you have or your baby has these symptoms. You also should contact both your doctor and your baby’s doctor so you can be correctly diagnosed and receive treatment at the same time to prevent passing the infection to each other. Fungal infection may put you at risk for another kind of breast infection so it is important to get help. Your doctors will decide the best course of treatment for both of you.
- Fungal infections may take several weeks to cure, so it is important to try not to spread them. Don’t freeze milk that you pump while infected. Change disposable nursing pads often and wash any towels or clothing that come in contact with the yeast in very hot water (above 122° F).
- Wear a clean bra every day.
- Wash your hands often, and wash your baby’s hands often, especially if he or she sucks on his or her fingers.
- Boil any pacifiers, bottle nipples, or toys your baby puts in his or her mouth once a day for 20 minutes to kill the infection. After one week of treatment, discard pacifiers and nipples and buy new ones.
- Boil daily for 20 minutes all breast pump parts that touch the milk.
- Make sure other family members are free of thrush or other fungal infections. If they have symptoms, get them treatment.