Nipple thrush can result in toe curling, eye watering breastfeeding sessions, which are no fun when you’re doing your best to breastfeed for as long as you can. To make matters worse, thrush is transmitted between the baby’s mouth and the mother’s nipples. This means that you need to treat both mother and baby to break the cycle.
There are some over-the-counter and prescribed treatment options available, for example Diflucan (fluconazole) and nystatin. Even if they do work for you, they may have more side effects than natural treatments. The great news is that natural treatments have been proven to work just as well or even better than prescribed drugs.
More importantly, it's important to understand that thrush medications are merely a bandaid fix. Making lifestyle and diet changes can help to repair the root cause and prevent another round of thrush. You must rebalance the good bacteria in your gut to sort out fungal problems for good. No matter where you get thrush, the problem always begins in the gut.
Diet plays a huge role in yeast infections, no matter if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or otherwise. If you or your baby have had antibiotics, this can create a problem too, because antibiotics wipe out all bacteria, good and bad.
Some foods can encourage the growth of yeast and some can help prevent it. No matter what treatment you decide to take, you MUST improve your diet, as this is highly likely why you got thrush — or can't get rid of it.
Foods To Eliminate In Order To Exterminate Thrush
You could go crazy and eliminate lots of foods, but here are the main inviters of thrush:
- Sugar. Thrush — as well as many other health problems — loves sugar. You need to eliminate as much as possible. This means no soft drinks, sports drinks, ice-cream, cordials, fruit juices, chocolate, sweets etc. Do not replace sugar with artificial sweeteners – they are actually worse for you. Taking them may even result in you craving more sugar. Unfortunately, honey is on the no list too if you’re trying to beat thrush.
- Grains. Why? Because grains are essentially sugars. Avoid grains in all it's forms, including bread, cake, biscuits, cereals and so on.
- Processed foods – from processed meats to dairy products, you'll harm much more than help. If you can’t hunt it, pick it or grow it, avoid eating it!
- Caffeine – cut back or eliminate where you can. There are some great herbal teas you can have in exchange.
- Alcohol – while I am sure you aren’t having any or very little, its not a good idea while you have thrush due to the sugars it contains. Alcohol is also a toxin and it can damage your immune system.
A few other things which can kill good probiotic bacteria and potentially lead to thrush include antibiotics, birth control pills, caffeine, synthetic vitamins and stress.
Thrush Diet Tips – Foods To Add To Your Diet
Especially as a breastfeeding mother, it's important to eat plenty of fresh vegetables, leafy greens, protein and good fats (found in avocado, chia seeds, coconut oil, fish and eggs).
In a weakened immune system, or if you’re run down or not eating well, thrush and other diseases start to run rampant. Just like when you forget to change the water in a fish tank, after a while it starts to get icky and polluted. Then the fish start to get sick and so on. If you change what you’re putting in your body, you’ll feel much better.
The following foods either have anti-fungal properties or can positively boost your immune system:
- Virgin coconut oil – this is a very powerful anti-fungal (as well as other things) and is a perfect alternative to other cooking oils. Some people use it as a partial or full butter replacement in recipes! Make sure it's organic, cold pressed virgin coconut oil.
- Garlic – fresh or raw is best. When crushed or chopped, you notice the trademark smell associated with garlic. A reaction occurs and this gives the garlic the potent antibiotic and antifungal properties. Avoid overcooking garlic or using after its been left out too long as it will reduce the benefits. Studies have shown garlic to be just as good and even better than some pharmaceutical medications for infections.
- Natural yoghurt – for it's probiotic content. Buy organic if you can, Jalna is a good brand in Australia. However the probiotic content in yoghurt isn't often high enough, and is not guaranteed with shelf life.
- Cinnamon. This yummy food additive has shown to have antifungal properties in some studies. More research is needed but so far it looks promising – and who doesn’t love cinnamon?!
- Veggies and leafy greens are so important for good health. They provide valuable nutrition and help your body to create it's own probiotics. Be sure to include plenty in your diet, not matter if you have an imbalance or not.
- Water intake. Check your water intake and drink good quality, filtered water, as additives in tap water aren’t probiotic friendly.
- Naturally fermented vegetables which contain probiotics.
- Kefir which contains probiotics.
- Good old fashioned chicken (cooked on the bone) and vegetable soup is nutritious and healthy. You'll get the goodness of natural bone broth. Alternately you can look up a bone broth recipe.
Natural Treatments For Nipple Thrush
There are lots of things you can do from home to help treat thrush. Here are some suggestions in no particular order:
Nipple Thrush Treatment #1 – Probiotics
Thrush is like a battle of good soldiers and bad soldiers – only in this case the bad soldiers are winning. By taking probiotics, you’re giving the good team more soldiers. Many people are well aware of yoghurts containing probiotics but you can never be sure of the potency due to shelf life. Often probiotic boosted products only contain one strain of probiotics, when there are many, many probiotics that exist, all with different functions.
Skip the supermarket or pharmacy – a naturopath strength probiotic is ideal, and while you’re there, the naturopath can also suggest other great solutions. Remembering you need to treat both yourself and your baby, there are probiotic products designed especially for babies too.
Nipple Thrush Treatment #2 – Coconut Oil
As well as using virgin coconut oil in your foods (or in a capsule form) you can apply it topically for a range of conditions due to its brilliant properties. Coconut oil is brilliant for a range of nipple problems and nipple thrush is no exception. You can make a paste of coconut oil and bicarb soda, even adding some probiotic to the paste.
Nipple Thrush Treatment #3 – Bicarb Soda And Vinegar
Bicarb soda and vinegar are great for so many things, even minor nipple thrush outbreaks. Place bicarb soda on your nipples, then a bit later, some vinegar. Obviously do this right after a feed!
Nipple Thrush Treatment #4 – Release The Boobies!
Get plenty of air time for your nipples, ideally spending some time in the sunlight too. Thrush loves damp, dark places, so making the environment unfavourable can help prevent and heal from thrush.
Nipple Thrush Treatment #5 – Keep Breastfeeding And Check Your Latch
Another big cause of nipple thrush is a bad latch. Firstly, if you have nipple thrush, you don’t need to stop breastfeeding or start supplement with formula. Any reduction in feeds will reduce milk supply, since milk production works on a supply meets demand basis. Your breastmilk also supplies your baby with valuable probiotics (amongst many other important things), and while some formulas do promote the inclusion of probiotics, they are no comparison.
If you are struggling with the pain of breastfeeding and don’t know what to do, please seek some help and guidance from an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) or the Australian Breastfeeding Association who have a helpline. Many breastfeeding problems can result from an incorrect latch, so it might be worth checking to ensure that your baby is latching correctly at the breast too.
Nipple Thrush Treatment #6 – Grapefruit Seed Extract
Jack Newman, MD and IBCLC recommends trying oral grapefruit seed extract (not grape seed extract).
“The active ingredient must be “citricidal”. Use tablets or capsules, 250 mg (usually 2 tablets of 125 mg each) three or four times a day orally (taken by the mother). If preferred the liquid extract can be taken orally, 10 drops in water three times per day (though this is not as effective as the pills and the taste is quite bitter). Oral GSE can be used before trying fluconazole, instead of fluconazole, or in addition to fluconazole in resistant cases.”
Bonus Suggestion #7 – Get A Decent Water Filtration System
Not specific to nipple thrush (moreso whole body health), but I had to add this one in, because it is so important. After air, water is the next thing we’ll die without! Good quality water is essential, yet there is so much crap in our drinking water these days, its pretty much biologically dead – and wont hydrate you and give energy to all of our cells like it should. Nasty additives in water these days (like chlorine and fluoride) are harmful to good gut bacteria.
Hopefully this has given you plenty of ideas on how to tackle nipple thrush. If you would like to share any experiences or what worked for you, please do so in the comments below!