What causes thrush?
Thrush is a fungal infection in the breasts. It's easily spread, and if you are breastfeeding, you and your baby can pass it back and forth to each other.
The fungus (Candida albicans) is a normal part of our bodies. We all carry it, but usually good bacteria keeps it under control.
The perfect environment for thrush to grow and spread is somewhere warm and moist – breastfeeding creates this perfect environment.
Check your breastfeeding position
It's worth remembering that a thrush infection may not be the cause of nipple pain. It could be that your baby simply is not positioned (latching on) properly.
If you think this could be the case, see our advice on latching on or ask your health visitor or breastfeeding specialist for guidance.
How to stop thrush spreading
Thrush spreads easily and can spread to other members of the family, so you'll need to be extra careful with hygiene.
Here are some things you and everyone else in your household should do to stop thrush spreading:
- wash hands thoroughly, especially after nappy changes
- use separate towels
- wash and sterilise dummies, teats and any toys your baby may put in their mouth
- change your breast pads often
- wash all towels, baby clothes and bras (anything that comes into contact with the infected area) at a high temperature to kill off the fungus
Did you know?
A thrush infection can happen if your nipples are sore or cracked, which can be caused by your baby not latching on properly.
Signs of thrush in breastfeeding mums
If you are breastfeeding and have the following symptoms, it may be thrush. Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Symptoms of thrush:
- pain in your nipples (burning, sharp, shooting pains) that can last up to an hour after feeds
- sore, cracked nipples
- shiny, red or pink nipples
- itchy or flaky nipples
Symptoms of thrush in breastfed babies
If you think your baby has thrush, make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
Symptoms of thrush in babies include:
- creamy, white spots on the tongue, gums, insides of the cheeks or roof of the mouth – if you gently try to wipe the spots with a clean cloth, they will not come off
- a white gloss on your baby's tongue or lips
- your baby feeding for shorter periods, or seeming unsettled during and between feeds
Read more about oral thrush in babies.
Treatment for thrush
It is really important to get treatment for thrush, otherwise it may come back. Your doctor may want to take swabs from your nipple and your baby's mouth.
If it is a thrush infection, you may be prescribed an antifungal cream or tablets. The cream needs to be applied to your nipples after every feed.
If your baby has thrush, your doctor will prescribe a gel or cream to apply to the infected area.
Can I breastfeed if I have thrush?
Yes, carry on breastfeeding if you can. If you cannot because it's too painful, try expressing your milk instead.
You can give your baby freshly expressed milk, but throw away any leftovers – and do not freeze it. Freezing does not kill off the thrush and you could re-infect your baby.
If you are in the early days of breastfeeding, it's very important to continue breastfeeding or expressing your milk. If you pause or take a break, you'll reduce the amount of breast milk you produce.
Read more about thrush and breastfeeding.
The Breastfeeding Friend, a digital tool from Start for Life, has lots of useful information and expert advice to share with you – and because it's a digital tool, you can access it 24/7.