Yeast: What is it?

Yeast: What is it?

Yeast might help make delicious sticky buns and bread, but it can be painful when it creeps into your breasts.

It's a different kind of yeast, of course—a fungus that can overgrow in your body and cause pain, burning and itching. If you've ever had a vaginal yeast infection, you know how uncomfortable that can be. And when you're trying to learn how to breastfeed your newborn properly, excess yeast can be especially frustrating.

Nipple yeast can be difficult to diagnose. It can arise suddenly after a period of pain-free nursing or it can show up gradually. Although it generally doesn't appear during the first couple of weeks post-birth, it is possible to develop it then.

Symptoms:

Nipple yeast can present itself as any of the following symptoms but not necessarily all of them:

  • Burning or itching, or the feeling of broken glass scratching the nipple.
  • Pain when your baby first latches on that gets better during the feeding.
  • Pain when you start pumping that gets better as your breast drains.
  • Hyper-sensitivity in the nipple, so much so that even a T-shirt brushing against your breast or a shower stream hitting it causes pain.
  • Shooting, searing pain deep in the breast tissue just after or between feedings.
  • Your nipple looks pink, shiny and irritated, particularly where it and the areola meet. However, your nipple might also look normal.
  • Pain that comes and goes over one or more days. Sometimes it's low level, while other times it's so bad you can barely nurse.
  • Pain that usually affects both nipples but can also be felt in only one nipple or is less severe in one.

The list of symptoms is so varied that it can be tough to pinpoint a yeast problem. That's why many moms don't know yeast is causing their nipple pain. They often think it's a problem with their baby's latch, even though they're usually well past the point of early latch problems.

Here are some known factors that cause yeast, which can help you diagnose it:

Risk factors:

  • If you had to take antibiotics when you delivered, either because of a Caesarian section or a Strep B positive status (where antibiotics are given during labor) or to treat mastitis or a urinary tract infection.
  • If you had to take antibiotics during your third trimester.
  • If you had fissures or scabs on your nipples during the early days of nursing. When they're healing, they can be an entry point for yeast.
  • If you have a history of vaginal yeast infections or nipple yeast, or if your other children have oral thrush.
  • Lanolin products, which many moms use to ease nipple pain, can make the yeast worse, since lanolin traps yeast and allows it to grow.

Is my baby's thrush causing nipple yeast?

If you have a nipple yeast infection, your baby might or might not have thrush. Oral yeast (thrush) in your baby will appear as white cottage cheese-like patches on the roof and walls of his mouth and sometimes a thick white coating on his tongue. Many times babies are free of thrush or yeast diaper rashes, while their mothers have yeast in their nipples. In other words, don't dismiss yeast because your baby shows no signs of thrush.

If you think you have a nipple yeast infection, there are cures. The best approach is to treat both yourself and your baby, even if he has no symptoms. Then there's no chance of passing it back and forth to each other and re-infecting yourself.

For more cures, read Treating Yeast in Mom and Baby.

Tips for success:

  • Yeast is tricky to diagnose, but don't dismiss it as the cause of your nipple pain if your baby doesn't show signs of thrush.
  • Antibiotic use puts you at higher risk for a yeast infection.
  • When treating yourself for yeast treat your baby too, even if he doesn't show any signs that he has it.

This information is courtesy of Bravado Designs, the brand synonymous with women's breastfeeding success for 18 years.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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