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Sore Nipples and Thrush

What Can I do About Sore Nipples?

  • Change your nursing position often to find one that is the most comfortable. Try to relax and express some milk so that it is flowing when the baby latches on. Be sure to empty your breasts so that you do not become engorged.
  • Bathe your breasts in fresh air and sunlight as often as possible.
  • Do not use soap on your nipples.
  • Apply a salve on your nipples that contains olive oil and skin healing herbs such as calendula, chamomile, marshmallow (see Motherlove’s Nipple Cream). Aloe vera and honey also promote rapid healing, but need to be washed off before nursing.
  • Apply warm, wet black tea bags, which contain tannin.
  • You may have thrush, a yeast infection that causes sore, cracked nipples.

What Is Thrush?

Thrush is a yeast infection that grows in moist places, such as in the folds of a baby’s skin. It appears as red, irritated patches on the neck, armpits and thighs; and as white patches on the tongue and insides of the cheeks. It can also be a diaper rash that doesn’t clear up easily. When thrush spreads to a nursing mother’s nipples, it makes nursing painful. The nipples are red, itchy, cracked, and sometimes have white patches. Both the mother and infant should be treated to keep from re-infecting each other, even when the symptoms appear in only one.

What can I do?

Treating thrush effectively takes a holistic approach, including diet and household hygiene.

  • You can treat thrush similarly to a yeast infection. Eat foods to rebalance live cultures in the intestines. These foods include miso, yogurt that contains live cultures, and liquid or powdered acidophilus. Acidophilus can be diluted for babies and swabbed in their mouth. Probiotic combinations are available in capsules that will increase the “good” intestinal flora. These are available for infants as well. Eat fewer foods made with yeast and cut down on sugar in your diet.
  • Boost the immune system with Vitamin C, zinc, B complex, echinacea, and garlic capsules.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water to help prevent thrush from spreading. Yeast can live on towels, so you may want to use paper towels until all signs of thrush disappear. Wash bath towels in hot water after each use and add distilled white vinegar to the final rinse (yeast cannot survive the distillation and PH). At the very least, be sure towels dry thoroughly between use.
  • Sanitize all items that come in contact with the baby's mouth or breast milk in hot water or run them through the dishwasher to keep yeast from spreading. Clean places where mold grows (damp or moldy corners, bathroom floors, windowsills, etc.) with a bleach solution or white vinegar.
  • Swab the insides of your baby’s cheeks four times day with baking soda and water (mix 1 tsp. baking soda in 1 cup of water). Or, coat the inside of the mouth and your nipples with yogurt that contains active cultures.
  • Spray moist areas (baby’s armpits, folds of skin, under breasts) with 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar diluted in 1 cup of water. Do this several times a day until two weeks after symptoms disappear. Dust slippery elm powder on your nipples and folds of baby’s skin to keep them dry, as well as to help with healing.
  • Keep nipples exposed to air and sunlight as much as possible. Do not wear nipple shields and change breast pads often. Go bra-less, if possible, and change your shirt as soon as it becomes moist from nursing. Thrush thrives on milk and moisture.
  • After nursing, wash your nipples with apple cider vinegar (1 T. to .50 cup water). Wash it off before nursing again.
  • Olive oil has anti-fungal properties. Apply olive oil or an herbal salve made in an olive oil base to your nipples. Find one that does not need to be washed off.
  • Myrrh, oregon grape root, black walnut, goldenseal, olive leaf and pau d’arco are anti-fungal herbs. Our Diaper Rash & Thrush Relief is effective on thrush infected nipples.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Where can I find more information?

For further reading, we suggest the books listed on our Resource Page under the category of “Women’s Health, Pregnancy and Lactation.”

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