Dealing with vaginal thrush and nipple thrush

Candida rarely causes harm, but can be extremely uncomfortable and interfere with breastfeeding and sexual activity. Midwife Christine Klynhans looks at the causes and cures.


Thrush is a yeast-like fungus that naturally lives in our bodies, as well as on objects like baby bottles and dummies. Our immune systems and the good bacteria in our bodies are usually able to control candida, so it doesn’t cause any harm. However, an overgrowth can lead to a candida infection and both mothers and their babies can be affected.

What puts you at risk of infection?

  • A suppressed immune system.
  • Medical conditions like HIV, cancer and diabetes.
  • Antibiotic use, since they kill the good bacteria in your system, too.
  • High sugar intake, which “feeds” the fungus.
  • Any skin breakdown, which can allow the organism to penetrate the skin and grow.

Vaginal thrush

Most women will experience a vaginal thrush infection at some point in their lives, but managing it as a new mom is essential since it’s often the source of infection in the baby.

Risk factors

  • Hormonal changes during women’s monthly menstrual cycles and pregnancy.
  • The use of hormonal contraception.
  • The use of fragranced soaps and bubble baths.
  • Vaginal douching (flushing out the vagina with preparations containing iodine), which completely destroys the vaginal probiotic balance. Douching as a form of thrush treatment should be avoided.


  • Vaginal itching and burning.
  • Redness and swelling in the vaginal area.
  • A thick, white, curdy discharge.
  • A stinging sensation when passing urine.
  • Pain and discomfort during sex.


  • You can obtain an antifungal ointment at the pharmacy to use with an applicator inside the vagina and to apply to the surrounding areas where you are experiencing itching.
  • In severe cases, a doctor can prescribe oral anti-fungal medication.
  • Use feminine hygiene products with pH levels designed for the vaginal area.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes and synthetic underwear.
  • Change out of wet swimwear as soon as possible.
  • Use a water-based lubricant during sex.
  • Reduce your sugar intake.
  • Add a few drops of tea tree oil to your bath water.

Nipple thrush

Nipple thrush typically appears suddenly after a period of comfortable breastfeeding.


  • A tendency for thrush infections.
  • Nipple trauma due to poor latching.
  • Wearing damp breast pads or nursing bras.
  • Anaemia in the mother.
  • An oral thrush infection in baby.
  • High sugar intake (from mixtures that mothers drink to boost their milk supply).

ALSO SEE: Dealing with oral thrush


  • A diagnosis is made based on symptoms, but only confirmed if the symptoms respond to treatment.
  • Burning or itching nipple pain during and after feeds.
  • Nipples that appear bright pink or red, and are inflamed.
  • Sometimes the fungi can be seen on the nipple in the form of white patches.
  • Shooting pains in the breasts.


  • See a certified lactation consultant if you suspect nipple thrush, as there are many factors to consider.
  • Ask your doctor to use Dr Jack Newman’s protocol for treating nipple thrush ( Both you and your baby should be treated and the protocol takes four to five days to work. It should be continued for a week or two after symptoms have cleared.
  • Wash your hands carefully before and after touching your breasts.
  • Change breast pads regularly.
  • Wash nursing bras and tops in hot water and hang in the sun to dry.
  • Boil all dummies and breast pump equipment for 20 minutes daily.
  • Reduce your sugar and dairy intake.
  • Use an echinacea supplement to boost your immune system.
  • Rinse your nipples with a solution of half water, half vinegar after feeds.
  • Take 250mg grapefruit seed extract three times a day.
  • Although it’s safe for your baby to breastfeed or drink expressed milk during treatment, don’t freeze this milk to use later.

Christine Klynhans is a midwife, lactation consultant and well-baby clinic sister. 

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