Thrush is unfortunately more common when you’re pregnant, leaving many pregnant women wondering how to get rid of it as soon and as safely as possible. If you have thrush during pregnancy, this article will help you to understand how thrush can be safely prevented and treated. You’ll also find out why thrush is more common during pregnancy – and how you can prevent getting thrush long term.
Thrush During Pregnancy – What Causes It?
Candida albicans is the microscopic fungus which is responsible for most cases of thrush. Normally, this organism is found in the intestinal tract of men and women. It's where all cases of thrush originate from, no matter where it appears on the body. Nearly one out of three women have candida albicans present in their vagina. This becomes a problem when the number of bad bacteria outgrow the good bacteria. It’s a battle of bacteria, and the side with the most soldiers wins.
During pregnancy, the vagina becomes rich in a form of glucose named ‘glycogen’, which feeds the growth of candida albicans. It’s believed the higher levels of glycogen occurs due to increased oestrogen levels and reduced acidity in the vagina. This is why pregnant women are much more likely to get vaginal thrush than normal. Add to that a poor diet (especially if you have terrible morning sickness and unhealthy cravings) and any stress, it can be an open invitation for thrush.
Other things which can kill good probiotic bacteria include:
- Birth control pills
- Steroidal/hormonal drugs
- Coffee/tea/carbonated drinks
- Synthetic vitamins
However a major cause of thrush is an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. A diet high in sugars, artificial sweetener, caffeine and grains can cause havoc with the good bacteria in your body, allowing bad bacteria to thrive.
Symptoms Of Thrush
Increased cervical fluid production is common during pregnancy. You may have already noticed a thin, milky discharge which is a result of your body’s hormones doing their job. If the discharge becomes thick, white and creamy — like cottage cheese — and if you have itching in your vaginal area, you may have thrush.
Some women notice a stinging or burning sensation on the labia during urination. Others experience pain or burning during sexual intercourse. It's important to have these problems checked out by a midwife or doctor, to ensure nothing else is going on.
Sometimes what you may assume are symptoms of thrush can actually be something more sinister, especially if you’re having trouble getting rid of it. Bacterial vaginosis or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) can have the same thrush-like symptoms. The only way you can be sure is to have a swab test performed by your carer.
Don’t feel embarrassed if you have any of these conditions – in the United States, around 30% of women aged 14-49 have bacterial vaginosis at any one time. You can have bacterial vaginosis without being symptomatic, so it can be hard to pinpoint when it began. But just like thrush, this happens when the good bacteria have been depleted and they are replaced by potentially harmful bacteria.
Bacterial vaginosis is often accompanied with a fishy odour (which can understandably be very embarrassing or distressing for women), and its important to note that those who have bacterial vaginosis are also at higher risk of pre-term labour. So while vaginal bacterial imbalances are fairly common problem, its best prevented and kept under control as described below.
How Do I Prevent Thrush?
Prevention is much better than cure, but chances are that you’re reading this because you already have thrush. Thrush can be kept under control or prevented by a change in diet and lifestyle. Obviously, the more you change, the better and quicker results you will get. Once you fix up what's going into your body, good quality, regular probiotics are essential to keep on top of it. You can purchase probiotics that are especially beneficial for the female reproductive system (more details below).
Over the counter or pharmaceutical preparations may help your case of thrush fairly quickly. They usually take a few days to kick in, but its important to know that it’s only fixing a symptom of an underlying problem. If you don’t address the root cause, you may find thrush or other infections reoccurring. Some over the counter preparations are no longer working for some women. This further strengthens the argument to look at the root cause of the imbalance — which is in your gut.
Vaginal Thrush and Probiotics
Many people are familiar with probiotics like acidophilus, but what most people don’t know is that the many strains of probiotics all have their own unique functions. They don’t all do the same thing.
In the 1980’s, Dr. Gregor Reid and Dr. Andrew Bruce discovered two lactobacillus strains, L. rhamnosus (GR-1™) and L. reuteri (RC-14®). These two strains have been shown to be very beneficial for improving the health of the urinary system and the vagina. They help to restore normal vaginal microflora, particularly in women with bacterial vaginosis.
As a result, there have been over 20 published clinical trials and over 200 peer-reviewed publications documenting these benefits when taking these probiotics orally. I have included a presentation by Dr. Gregor Reid at the end of this article, which you’ll get some great information from, helping you to successfully prevent and treat thrush.
There are many probiotic preparations on the market, usually found in health food stores or pharmacies. Probiotics are usually stored in the fridge because they are a live bacteria. So you will likely need to ask for it as it won’t be on the shelf. However, its important to remember that different strains of probiotics have different properties, so you can't just grab that bottle of acidophilus and expect miracles.
You also need to ensure you purchase a good quality probiotic in adequate amounts. Many probiotic products are being sold that are not sufficient enough to have a noticeable health benefit. Probiotics are often added into dairy food products, like drinks, yoghurts etc. However, the manufacturers often don't test their products to see how effective they are.
The problem isn't to do with how much probiotic they have added into the product, but what amount is left at the end of the shelf life.
Don’t waste money on products that wont help – choose a good, effective probiotic from a naturopath or trusted health food store, who can help with advice on the best brands to take.
Thankfully, there are lots of natural remedies you can use to treat thrush that are safe in pregnancy. Please note that douching is absolutely not recommended – do not douche or you may further upset the flora balance in your vagina, as you’ll not only wash away the bad bacteria but the good bacteria too.
Thrush Treatments – Over The Counter Remedies
If you are in your first trimester, your carer will be least likely to want to prescribe you something for thrush. However, if you are able to choose a pharmaceutical solution, be aware that it may solve the problem for you, yet some specific products may not be as effective. For example, if you get no relief from Canesten, it doesn’t mean that another brand like Nilstat won’t work. They have slightly different ingredients, so it may be a matter of finding what works at the time.
If nothing seems to be working (and you’ve ruled out other health issues with your doctor) or if you really want to target the root cause of thrush, you need to look at your diet and lifestyle choices. If you aren’t eating as well as you should (and throw in there an already lowered immune system, little exercise and added stress), your body isn’t going to be able to fight infections as well as it normally would. If you don’t make changes to your diet and lifestyle, then you could be headed for a long battle with thrush.
Boost your immune system by eating lots of fresh vegetables in a variety of colours, dark leafy green salads, some fruit (not too much!), protein, good fats (e.g. found in foods like avocado, coconut oil, chia seeds, eggs and fish) and other omega rich foods. I love making up delicious salads with baby spinach leaves as the base, with either chicken or tuna, avocado, tomato, sesame seeds, sometimes cubed roasted sweet potato (cooked in coconut oil) and I drizzle either a tablespoon of greek yoghurt or a mix of 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Its so yummy and filling and so very healthy!
Replacing cooking oils with organic virgin coconut oil is very beneficial, because coconut oil is a anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral – its a brilliant health food. You can take it orally and it can even be used as a healthy, safe lubricant – but be aware that if you have sex while you have thrush, you could pass it onto your partner.
Thrush Treatments – Self Help & Natural Remedies
If you’d like to try some natural, or self help remedies, here are 11 things to try:
Thrush Self Help Tip #1: Natural Yogurt
Natural yoghurt contains a probiotic called acidophilus. However, the level of probiotics in yoghurt is quite low, so it can take a little more time to help, which can be frustrating especially if itching is a problem. You can eat yoghurt if you like, however some women swear by inserting some plain natural yoghurt into their vagina, which gives them a sense of relief. You can soak a tampon in the yoghurt, insert into the vagina for 2 hours, then change for new one. Alternately you can lather your vaginal area with yoghurt and wear a pad. Make sure you choose a natural, organic yoghurt, instead of a flavoured sweet yoghurt which has little health benefit.
Thrush Self Help Tip #2: Garlic (Internally)
Inserting a clove of garlic internally is one of the most effective, speedy ways to rid of thrush for many women. Read the full article on how to do this here: How To Treat a Vaginal Infection With a Clove of Garlic.
Thrush Self Help Tip #3: Choose Cotton Underwear
Avoid underwear that is tight or contains materials like lycra or other fabrics which reduce air circulation. Natural, breathable cotton underwear is best. Avoid underwear altogether when possible.
Thrush Self Help Tip #4: Avoid Tight Pants
Don’t wear jeans or trousers if possible – opt for skirts or other loosely fitting clothing.
Thrush Self Help Tip #5: Keep Baths Short
Candida albicans thrive in moist, warm environments so try to avoid long, hot baths and be sure to dry yourself properly afterwards. Do not use any bubblebath or any other artificial additives.
Thrush Self Help Tip #6: Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar as a soak in a bath and/or taken orally is a great way to balance your body’s pH level. This will only work if you buy ACV which is raw and unpasteurised, ideally unfiltered and organic. If the packaging says it has ‘the mother’ in it, buy it.
Add one cup to your bath, or take 1-2 tablespoons daily (until the infection clears, not as a once off), which can be in a glass of water, on salads or in a cup of hot tea. If you need to use a little bit of honey to sweeten ACV this may help, but don’t use too much.
Thrush Self Help Tip #7: Avoid Grains, Yeast and Processed Wheat Products
Lots of women swear that yeast in their diet increases the growth of candida. It’s often present in iron tonic supplements, so check the list of ingredients when taking them. Grains broken down are effectively sugars, so cut them right back too.
Thrush Self Help Tip #8: Boric Acid Capsules
You will need to source these from a compounding chemist, however the usual recommended dose for vaginal thrush is 600mg inserted into the vagina each night, for 2 weeks. Many women have said that it works a charm for them.
Thrush Self Help Tip #9: Cut Out Sugar
Too much sugar in your diet can cause thrush, as well as a host of other diseases, so be sure to look at seriously amending your diet. Cut out soft drinks (even the low/no sugar foods and drinks, as they are full of artificial sweetener which is even worse for you), processed foods, pre-packages fruit juices, flavoured milks, sweets, breads and pastries – most of these are pretty obvious. You’d be surprised where sugar is hidden, so always read the labels. Sugar really plays havoc with your body’s health and thrush thrives in it.
Thrush Self Help Tip #10: Choose Water Based Lubricant
Avoid personal lubricants with glycerine in them – and do not use baby oil (petrochemical byproduct) or other synthetic oils which make it hard for your skin to breathe. Water based lubricant is much better for your body, and coconut oil is a brilliant natural lubricant.
Thrush Self Help Tip #11: A Bit Of Sunshine
Just as you’ll be advised as a treatment for nappy rash (which is often fungal based), exposure to the sun can help stop thrush in its tracks. Thrush thrives in dark, moist places. Lying in a private spot in the sun and giving yourself some sun time can help. Of course, be mindful not to do this for too long and burn in the sun.
Can Thrush Hurt My Baby?
If you have thrush when you go into labour, there is a small chance that your baby will catch it as he or she moves through the vagina. If a baby has thrush this is often seen as white patches in the baby’s mouth, but it isn’t serious and is easily treated.
If your baby does get thrush in the mouth, this may be passed back to you through breastfeeding. This means that you can keep re-infecting each other, so it’s important to treat both of you at the same time.
If you have nipple thrush, you may experience sore, tender nipples and a ‘shooting’ pain while breastfeeding your baby. The shooting pains may also occur after feeding, radiating from the nipple right through to the back of the breast. The pain can make your eyes water. Because it can create so much tension prior to feeding, it can make for an unpleasant experience — you may even want to give up breastfeeding.
At the earliest signs of thrush, make sure you seek the services of a qualified lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Lactation consultants can come to your home and help identify any problems and diagnose any conditions, getting you back on the road to more pleasant feeding!
You can locate Lactation Consultants through the following organisations:
- Australian Lactation Consultants Organisation
- Network of Australian Lactation Colleges
- National Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners
Some Great Information Worth Watching
Below is a presentation by Dr. Gregor Reid, Ph.D., MBA, who is a renowned probiotic researcher and the world’s leading expert in using clinically-documented probiotics to address women’s health concerns.
This presentation is brilliant – it’s easy to follow and detailed, so you will understand probiotics much better, especially with regards to women’s health (including thrush and bacterial vaginosis). I very much enjoyed watching this and learning so much about this common problem, which is on the rise with current lifestyle habits. It’s been broken up into several chapters due to YouTube restrictions – enjoy!