Fighting Thrush–and Winning!

Fighting Thrush and Winning

Thrush–it can be one of the most painful and long lasting problems you will deal with as a nursing mom.  The symptoms can appear in the baby, the mother, or both.  Thrush, like mastitis, can be so challenging that it has been known to shake even the most devoted breastfeeding woman.  This article will highlight just exactly what thrush is, how it looks and feels, and highlight the steps you can take in order to kick it to the curb for good.

What is thrush?

Thrush is an over growth of yeast in BOTH the mother and breastfeeding baby. Determining the cause of thrush is difficult because there are a number of possible culprits.  The leading suspects include nipple damage (often from an incorrect latch), poor diet, vaginal thrush, and a compromised immune system (and/or recent use of antibiotics).

Even if one person in the nursing relationship does not show any symptoms, this does not mean that only the other one has it.  One of the reasons why thrush is so challenging is that it is passed back and forth between mother and child.  Therefore, both persons need to be treated.

What does it look and feel like?


  • Oral thrush is characterized by white spots or patches in the mouth.  In more severe cases, the tongue may be coated white, along with the insides of the cheeks.  A sore throat may accompany these more severe cases.
  • Genital thrush starts with small red bumps and does not respond well to normal diaper rash creams or is recurrent.


  • Nipple thrush is characterized by nipple pain and/or deep breast pain.  Nipple pain is often described as burning or itching, while breast pain is more of a deep stabbing or shooting sensation.  Pain in the breast or nipple often occurs during or immediately after feedings.

How do I treat it?


  • First–talk with your pediatrician.  Your pediatrician may prescribe you a medicine called Nystatin, an anti fungal cream, which you will apply after each feeding.
  • Ask your pediatrician about giving your infant acidophilus, a specific probiotic strain, to help boost their immune system.  You can give it to them 4-5 times a day by sprinkling some of the powder from a capsule and letting them lick it from your finger.
  • For the diaper area, clean them with a vinegar and water solution after each changing.  You should make a solution of approximately 1 cup of water with 1 T vinegar and have it ready for use.  This solution will help kill the yeast present on the skin.  It is recommended that you not use a standard baby wipe when cleaning the diaper area.  Use a clean cloth with water only to clean the area and follow up with the vinegar solution.
  • After cleaning with the vinegar and water solution, apply an anti-fungal cream such as Nystatin or Lotramin (commonly used to treat Athlete’s Foot and available at the drug store).


  • Again, talk with your child’s pediatrician.  You may be prescribed an antibiotic.  Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons using an antibiotic.  One potential problem is that an antibiotic will wipe clean both the good and bad gut bacteria in your system.  You may consider trying an approach without the antibiotic for a few weeks first and then using this method as a last resort.
  • Take acidophilus tablets up to 6x day to help populate your gut with healthy bacteria.  This will help fight off the bad bacteria in your system and keep it out.
  • Take garlic capsules to help boost your immune system.  Find a high quality brand like Kyolic.  You should aim to take up to 6 capsules a day.
  • Take echinacea to also boost your immune system.  Since echniacea can become less effective over time, take it for 10 days and then take a few days off before starting another round.  You can take up to 4 tablets a day.
  • Take grapefruit seed extract.  You can buy this both in tablet form or in a liquid concentrate.  If you buy the concentrate, you can add it to your water bottle and drink it throughout the day.  Grapefruit seed extract is one of the most powerful and natural anti-fungals you can use.  Remember to take it daily.
  • After feedings, apply the vinegar and water solution to your nipples and allow to air dry.  You should also try to expose your nipples to air as much as possible since yeast thrive in dark and damp areas.
  • Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet.  Yeast live off of sugar and since thrush is a system-wide problem, you have to kill the yeast living in and outside of your body.
  • Lastly, apply Nystatin, or Lotrimin to your nipples after feeding.  Your pediatrician may also prescribe you Jack Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment, an anti-fungal ointment that also contains a pain reliever to soothe sore nipples.
Talk with your pediatrician about using Gentian Violet on the nipple area at the beginning of treatment.  Gentian Violet is available in most pharmacies or online and has been used to treat thrush successfully for many years.  However, Gentian Violet has recently been scrutinized due to one published study citing it as carcinogenic at high doses in mice.  Most pediatricians continue to find it safe if used correctly (including breastfeeding advocates Dr. Jack Newman and Dr. Sears), but like any medical issue, this discussion and debate is best suited with your trusted medical professional.

Feeling afraid after reading about how best to treat thrush? Don’t be. This list seems intimidating, but once you get your treatment arsenal assembled and ready, you’ll be able to kick it from your system. We recommend doing ALL of the above to treat thrush. If you pick and choose, you might find a brief remission of symptoms, but it will likely return in full-force. Take it from one of our contributing writers who battled thrush for over 3 months–do it right the first time!

Looking for Un-Nursing Wear?

If you need to add some nursing clothing to your wardrobe, but don’t want to spend money on pieces you’ll only wear for a short period of time, then head on over to Melody Lane for the best in regular clothing that is versatile enough to wear before, during, and after breastfeeding! They offer trendy, classic, and comfortable clothing that is hand-picked for all the life stages women usually experience. With nothing over $100, always free shipping, and new styles featured every season, Melody Lane makes sure your “fashion meets life”.

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Want more help troubleshooting your breastfeeding issues or concerns? Check out these Daily Mom articles:
The Symptoms and Solutions of Mastitis
Breastmilk Oversupply Problems and Solutions
The Art of Breastfeeding: Mastering the Latch

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

Photo credits: Woman in tub by The Art of Making a Baby, Woman breastfeeding by Daniel Lobo via Flickr (CC), etc.


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Katherine lives in Kansas City with her husband, toddler, and 3 furry children. When she is not at home with her daughter, she is finishing up her Ph.D. in psychology or working on one of her multiple half-finished art projects. She loves ceramics, crafts, fitness, paper mache, and pretending to learn French and Spanish.

Comments (3)

  • Avatar



    My first daughter got thrush like the day after we got home from the hospital! It was pretty awful and yes, I gave up breastfeeding after 5 weeks partly because of it. I’m hoping my next one won’t have it but if she does then I will be ready with this article! Great information!


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    My first baby got thrush in the mouth and I was a bit worried about it.

    I read several articles online to learn more about it and what was causing it.
    I learn a lot and I hope it doesn’t happen again with my second baby.

    Thank You for This Great Article!


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    I nursed my first 2 (boys) until they were 12 & 18 months, went very smooth except mastitis one time, which quickly cleared with antibiotics.
    Now with my 3rd (little girl), she is 2 1/2weeks and I’ve gotten mastitis and pretty sure we have thrush now- she had the white coating in her mouth last week before I started antibiotics, the pediatrician said it often times will go away on its own- her mouth is pretty much clear now, but I’m having terrible nipple pain! Going to try all these recommendations and get the script filled that he pediatrician wrote for in case we needed it!

    One question about the vinegar solution- should I use organic apple cider vinegar with the mother or plain distiller white vinegar? Thanks!


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