Breastfeeding can be a bit uncomfortable in the first few days, but it should not be excruciating. Cracked, bleeding nipples or stabbing, burning pains are not normal, contrary to common myths. If you are experiencing pain or itching and have ruled out latch issues in baby, and especially if your pain is accompanied by white patches in your baby's mouth, it might be thrush.
Thrush is a fungal infection that grows in warm, moist environments like the mouth or on the skin of the breastfeeding mother. It is most commonly caused by Candida Albicans, which lives on and in most of us and is kept in check by our good gut flora, but can become out of control under the right conditions. Stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet are all common culprits. It is no wonder so many mothers suffer from thrush--too little sleep, too little emotional support, and too little energy to choose healthy foods are all major issues in early motherhood for many if not most of us.
Luckily, with a little commitment to better self care and a few natural remedies, balance can be restored and thrush will become a thing of the past.
Change Your Diet
Thrush is tenacious and it takes diligence to get rid of it. Changing your diet looks like cutting sugar (and most processed food in general), as well as inflammatory foods like grains and dairy for at least 30 days. But try not to focus on what you can't eat and instead think about all of the yummy things that bring healing to your postpartum body. Leafy greens, garlic, onions, seeds like flax and chia, and bone broth all have wonderful gut healing properties that will really speed up the process of restoring balance. Fermented vegetables also nourish and repopulate the gut with probiotics, and many scientists believe consuming probiotics in food form is much more effective than taking them as pills or powders.
Aside from adding healing and probiotic-rich foods, taking a few extra supplements specific to rebalancing yeast levels can be very beneficial, but none of these are so extreme that they would be uncalled for in maintaining optimal health in everyday life. Drinking apple cider vinegar (one tablespoon in a glass of water) three times a day ten minutes before a meal is helpful in aiding digestion and curbing an abundance of Candida. Garlic in capsule form is easier for some mothers to stomach a couple of times a day. Immune boosting supplements with whole food vitamin C, Olive Leaf, Pau De Arco, Oregon Grape Root, and Turmeric are incredible natural anti fungals. Also, consuming probiotics at least three times a day, whether that be in food form (a spoonful of sauerkraut or kimchi with each meal) or as a supplement is generally recommended to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria.
Both mother and baby need to receive topical treatment after each nursing session to avoid passing the yeast infection back and forth. Wiping the nipple and areola with an organic cloth or cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar, and then letting them air dry often provides quick relief. Painting diluted gentian violet on your areolas and in the babies mouth is another very effective way to combat thrush quickly. Be careful though, gentian violet can and will stain any fabric it touches! Some times it takes a few rounds of treatment before it is all the way gone. Another option is soaking or making herb compresses with Postpartum Herb Bath because it is blended with antiseptic and anti fungal herbs like Yarrow. Once the skin is dry, many mothers like apply coconut oil or Birth Song's anti fungal herbal Nipple Salve to help with soreness and speed up healing because it is also made with Yarrow, as well as Oregon Grape Root and Pau De Arco.
The parasympathetic nervous system, where we go during sleep, mindful breathing, and yoga, is where the body achieves healing and restoration. Getting out to a yoga class may be out of the question with a baby or young child at home, but going to bed early, napping with your baby, and stopping to take big breaths down into your belly throughout the day may be more doable options. A healthier mama almost always means a healthier baby--you are worth it!
Have you struggled with repeated bouts of thrush? Do you find it keeps coming back after conventional treatment? A whole body approach may seem overwhelming at first, but food is medicine and you can and will feel better!