Thrush (Adult Nursers Can Get it, Too)

I have often been asked if nursing an adult is similar to nursing an infant, and in some respects, the experience is very similar, particularly if a couple has chosen to wet nurse, as lactation holds the same realities regardless of who your body is producing milk for.

Along with facing the same physical changes and common nursing challenges, such as unexpected leaking and the prevention of engorgement, breast health is also just as important for the nursing woman as it is for the breastfeeding mother.

In the beginning of your nursing relationship, it is normal to experience tenderness in the body of the breast that may extend into the underarm, warmth, or even little “growing pains” that shoot suddenly and briefly through the breast; tender nipples are often attributed to the new experience of suckling, and an episode described as painful nursing is normally remedied by adjusting your partner’s latch or changing positions. These little maladies typically disappear quickly, as your body adapts to its role as a nurser, and rarely signify more serious issues.

It is also common to get the “nursing nipple itchies”. The skin of the nipple and areola is delicate and suckling–and routine pumping– can cause it to dry out, leading to this harmless (but irritating and uncomfortable) condition, which can easily be soothed by applying a small amount of coconut oil or lanolin to the affected area. But when is an itch more than just an itch?

When it is thrush.

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by the organism Candida albicans that can occur in the nipple(s) and breast(s). Nipple and/or breast thrush is often more common in women who have a history of yeast infections, and its cause is sometimes linked to prescription antibiotics or injury and damage to the nipple. Thrush discomfort is often described as a deep burning or stinging itch accompanied by severe stabbing, shooting, or deep nipple pain that can radiate throughout one or both breasts. The discomfort is often more apparent immediately after nursing and in between suckling sessions. Thrush can cause the nipples to become bright pink and enflamed and the areola may redden or become dry and flaky. Sometimes, a fine, white rash will appear on the breasts. Initially, the signs of breast thrush may be undetectable before symptoms seem to suddenly appear.

Thrush is contagious, and many breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to watch their infants for signs that they may be suffering from the condition, but the disorder isn’t limited to little feeders–adult nursers can get it, too.

Like breast thrush, the early stages of oral thrush contracted from the breast, may be undetectable for a significant amount of time before symptoms are noticed. Thrush is normally identified by a white coating of the tongue and inner cheeks and can extend to the gums and roof of the mouth. It may cause soreness, difficulty in swallowing, and loss of taste.

Because thrush is easily transferred between nursing partners, it will be important for both of you to be tested–and possibly treated–for the condition by a qualified medical professional.

Here’s the good news: although thrush is a possibility, it is a rare occurrence.

Breast care is extremely important for the nursing woman, as some health concerns can be avoided with some much-deserved TLC. Injury to the nipples can be caused by improper suckling, forceful breast pump suction, or even an improperly fitting breast flange. Damage, such as cracks and fissures in the nipples, are often slow to heal, and are perfect entry points for infectious diseases, so take extra-good care of yourself! Be sure that your partner is properly latched and suckling correctly during nursing sessions, and pump, using the correct breast shield, at no more than your maximum level of comfort. If you notice damage to your nipples, be sure to care for them immediately to prevent further problems. You can do this by gently cleansing and thoroughly drying your breasts after each nursing session, and then applying a small amount of over-the-counter antibacterial ointment to the affected area. If you are already producing, you can apply a few drops of breast milk to your nipples and allow it to completely dry. Breast milk is chock-full of natural healing properties.  If the condition doesn’t improve, it is best to consult your healthcare provider.

If you find yourself suffering from the more common nursing nipple itchies, you might want to try The Vinegar Solution, a simple home remedy to soothe and relieve nursing discomfort. It’s safe, natural, economical, and effective!

Pour 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into 1 cup of warm water. Mix well. Saturate a cotton ball in the solution and place it on the affected area for 3-5 minutes. Then, lean over a sink and slowly pour the remaining mixture over your nipples and areolae. Don’t rinse. Pat dry. Repeat this as needed, up to 3 times per day. Ahhh…now isn’t that better? 😉

Take care of yourself–and those beautiful breasts. 🙂