How to Prevent Thrush While Breastfeeding

Handwashing and Hygiene Are Key

Woman washing her hands
Wash your hands often to help prevent the spread of many common illnesses including thrush.

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What Is Thrush?

Thrush, which is technically a yeast infection, is a common breastfeeding problem. Also known as a fungal infection or Candida, thrush can develop on your breasts and in your baby's mouth.

Although it can be painful, thrush usually is not serious. But it can spread quickly and it is tough to treat. The best way to combat thrush is to try to avoid it. Here is what you need to know, including how to prevent thrush while breastfeeding.

Signs and Symptoms of Thrush

Signs of thrush in a baby include white spots on the inside your baby's cheeks or on their tongue or gums. Your baby may also have difficulty nursing or be uncharacteristically fussy.

If you are breastfeeding and develop thrush, you may have sore nipples that last more than a few days—even after the baby has latched on. Or, you might have sore nipples even after weeks or months of pain-free breastfeeding. Other symptoms of thrush include:

  • Flaky, itchy, cracked, or blistered nipples
  • Pink or shiny nipples
  • Achy breasts or shooting pains deep in the breast during or after feedings

A yeast infection on your nipples is painful and can get in the way of successful breastfeeding. It causes some parents to consider discontinuing breastfeeding. And if it's also in your baby's mouth and it hurts, your little one may refuse to nurse.

Causes of Thrush

Thrush occurs when too much of a yeast called Candida grows on your nipples and in your baby's mouth. Although bacteria and fungi naturally grow in your body, your immune system usually helps keep them in check. But because your baby does not have a fully formed immune system, too much yeast can grow.

Sometimes thrush occurs after you or your baby have taken antibiotics. Although antibiotics treat infections from bacteria, they can also kill "good" bacteria, which allows yeast to grow. Because yeast thrives in warm, moist areas, your baby's mouth and your nipples are perfect places for a yeast infection.

Some people are more likely to develop thrush than others. If you get frequent vaginal yeast infections, you have diabetes, or you begin to take birth control pills, your chances of developing thrush are higher.

Since Candida thrives in moist, dark areas, the key to preventing thrush is to keep everything clean and dry. Here are some steps you can take to prevent thrush.

Wash Hands Often

Many times, good handwashing will be enough to keep yeast from becoming a problem. Always wash your hands before breastfeeding, after using the bathroom, and after changing your baby's diaper. Good hand hygiene can prevent the spread of many common illnesses, including thrush.

Keep Nipples Dry

You also need to do what you can to keep your nipples clean and dry. For instance, change your nursing bra every day or whenever it gets wet. Let nipples air dry after breastfeeding if you can. Wash bras, clothes, and linens in hot water to keep them clean.

Change Breast Pads Frequently

If you wear breast pads to soak up leaks, don't get the ones that have plastic or waterproof liners. Nursing pads made with plastic liners do not allow air to circulate to the skin around your breasts and nipples. They also hold in moisture. Instead, use unlined disposable pads or reusable breast pads made from natural fibers.

Make sure you change your breast pads often. Nursing pads saturated with breast milk provide the perfect warm, dark, sugary environment for organisms such as yeast to grow.

Also avoid using any type of nipple cream on your breasts unless it is necessary. Nipple creams, lotions, and ointments can hold in moisture and allow bacteria and fungus to develop.

Keep Baby Supplies Clean

Keep anything that comes in contact with your baby and your breasts clean as well. Wash toys, pacifiers, teethers, bottles, and nipples in hot, soapy water. Regularly clean the washable parts of your breast pump by following the care instructions that came with your pump.

Watch Your Diet

Some people add probiotics or yogurt containing active cultures to their diet to prevent yeast infections, but the research on their effectiveness is limited. However, maintaining a healthy, well-balanced breastfeeding diet and limiting the amount of sugar and empty calorie foods that you consume is a solid practice even if it does not prevent yeast infections.

Treatment for Thrush

If you notice any of the signs of thrush on your breasts or in your baby's mouth, call a healthcare provider as well as your baby's pediatrician. You will both need to be treated to prevent passing the infection back and forth to each other. Your other children and your sexual partner may also need treatment because a yeast infection can spread quickly and easily through contact.

Typically, healthcare providers prescribe an anti-fungal medication. It is important that you follow the instructions on the package or the directions provided by your doctor. These instructions often recommend applying the cream or lotion to your nipples or breast before and after feedings.

Your baby's medication may require using a medicine dropper after feedings and swabbing medication over their gums and tongue. If your baby has yeast in their diaper area, you may also be prescribed an anti-fungal cream or lotion for their bottom as well.

Other Treatment Recommendations

While you and your baby are being treated for thrush, it's important to try to prevent reinfection or spreading the infection to other family members.

  • Air dry your nipples and expose them directly to the sun several times a day if you can.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol, cheese, bread, sugar, and honey, which promote yeast growth.
  • Avoid taking baths or showering with other members of your family.
  • Boil items that come in contact with your breast or your baby’s mouth. You also can soak them in a vinegar and water solution for 30 minutes.
  • Refrain from freezing your breast milk until you are symptom free—freezing does not kill thrush.
  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact with people, wash your hands regularly, and do not share towels.

A Word From Verywell

While thrush is a common problem among breastfeeding parents and their babies, if you take steps to prevent thrush—like keeping your breasts and nipples clean and dry and regularly washing your hands—you may be able to avoid it.

If you do end up with a case of thrush, it does not have to put an end to your breastfeeding relationship. By recognizing the signs and symptoms and responding quickly with treatment for both you and your baby, you can alleviate the pain and discomfort that thrush can cause.

Just be sure you both are treated at the same time to prevent passing it back and forth. You should also take steps to prevent the rest of your family from getting infected until you are symptom free.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. WIC Breastfeeding Support. Plugged ducts, mastitis, and thrush.

  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. Thrush.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Thrush in newborns.

  4. University Hospitals. Comprehensive care for thrush infection in breastfeeding mom and baby.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.