Vaginal yeast infections may be problematic; however, they may be particularly troublesome during the breastfeeding stage of a mother's life, as a vaginal yeast infection could also lead to thrush for mother and baby. Understanding symptoms and treatments for both mother and baby can help alleviate some discomfort and stress.
Yeast Infections and Thrush
An overgrowth of candida albincans---the fungus responsible for yeast infections---can lead to vaginal yeast infections and also thrush in the breastfeeding mother. Found in the vagina, nipples, mouth and baby's diapered area, candida albicans thrives in moist, dark environments. Though candida albicans is always present in the body, illness, pregnancy or antibiotic use can cause an surplus of this yeast. When a nursing mother develops a yeast infection, chances are this infection will be present in other ares of the body, such as the nipples, which can lead to an infection in baby as well.
In addition to symptoms of vaginal yeast infections, such as burning or itching at the labia, a woman may experience sudden nipple pain that lasts through the feeding, or itchy or burning nipples with a candida albicus overgrowth that has also infected the nipples in the form of thrush. Affected nipples may look red, shiny, flaky or even have small blisters. "The Breastfeeding Answer Book" advises to watch for traces of white fungus in the folds of the nipple or breast, or cracked nipples. An infected breast-fed baby may also have white patches on his gums, cheeks, palate or tongue. Also, diaper rash, gassiness or general fussiness are all signs of thrush and that the yeast has spread to the baby.
Treating the Mother
To treat vaginal yeast infections and thrush, a mother has several options. Dr. William Sears says the nursing mother can safely treat her yeast infection in the traditional manner by using over-the-counter yeast infection creams or the prescription drug Diflucan. Sears says it's important, though, to treat the nipples if it appears that the yeast has spread to the nipples. Over-the-counter treatments such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin or Mycelex) or miconazole (Mycatin or Monistat-Derm) can be applied to the nipples after feedings two to four times a day. Use until the symptoms have cleared up for two days. These medications are safe to take while nursing and don't affect a woman's ability to breastfeed.
Treating the Baby
When a mother has a vaginal yeast infection that also infects the nipples in the form of thrush, oftentimes, the baby needs to be treated as well. Treatment for an affected baby is similar to that for the mother. Oral liquid prescription treatments such as Clotrimazole, Miconazole and Fluconazole have been shown to be effective in infant doses. In addition, Genetian violet may be a helpful over-the-counter remedy.
Once thrush or a vaginal yeast infection are detected, take precautions so that thrush doesn't reoccur or spread to other family members. Wash your hands carefully, especially after diaper changes and using the restroom. Boil all artificial nipples for 20 minutes a day, including all breast pump parts. Use paper towels and disposable nursing pads, and discard after one use. Finally, launder everything that comes in contact with mom and baby in very hot water and wear a clean bra every day.