Stacey Cham-Klein and her daughter, Olivia, shared many things in their first few months together: lots of cuddles, sleepless hours and, sorry to say, a case of thrush, passed back and forth between Olivia’s mouth and Stacey’s nipples and breasts when she nursed. “I noticed that her tongue looked like white sandpaper,” she remembers. “She would unlatch pretty quickly, and it felt like I was on fire when I was nursing. My nipples were a glossy cotton candy pink—it was crazy.” Oral thrush, also known as oral candidiasis, is a fairly common type of yeast infection that can appear in infants and breastfeeding moms. It’s most common in babies less than two months old, but it can happen at any age. Here’s what you need to know.
“Thrush looks like thick, white, cheesy clumps on the tongue, inside of the mouth and gums,” says Kerry Harris, a midwife based in Vancouver. She adds that thrush can sometimes be confused with ordinary milk residue on your baby’s tongue, but thrush doesn’t wipe away as easily as milk does. Your baby may also have a red rash in their diaper area and be generally fussy, especially when it’s time to eat. It shouldn’t be painful for babies, but it can be for moms. Breastfeeding mothers may notice red, shiny, irritated and peeling skin on their nipples. “Often, thrush is a burning or stabbing pain that goes from the front of the breast toward the chest,” says Harris. “The pain can happen during or between feedings.”
A yeast called candida grows naturally in the body, including the mouth. Some babies get an overgrowth of this yeast because their immune systems aren’t mature yet. Your baby can pass it on to you during breastfeeding, especially if you have cracked or irritated nipples.
The first step is a thorough assessment by a healthcare provider so that you know what you’re dealing with, says Harris. Your healthcare provider may recommend some of the following remedies, which are safe for both babies and breastfeeding moms.
“Thrush can be persistent and usually lasts for a week or two,” says Harris. “If it persists beyond that with treatment, talk to your healthcare provider.”