Nipple Yeast Infection
What is a nipple yeast infection?
A nipple yeast infection is a yeast infection that commonly happens during breastfeeding. A yeast called Candida causes a fungal infection called candidiasis. Yeast is a type of fungus. Many types of yeast naturally live on your skin. This normally doesn’t cause any issues in healthy people. But when there’s an overgrowth of Candida, the yeast can dig under your skin and cause an infection.
Candidiasis can occur almost anywhere on your body. But it’s most often found in warm, moist environments. Cracked nipples provide the perfect environment for Candida to grow and thrive.
While breastfeeding, your baby can infect you with a type of oral candidiasis called thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection of the mouth that’s common in babies. The thrush can pass to your nipples. Sometimes, you and your baby may pass a yeast infection back and forth to each other.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of a nipple yeast infection?
The most common symptom of a nipple yeast infection is nipple and breast pain. You may feel a stabbing or shooting pain deep within your breasts. You may feel this pain during or after breastfeeding. The pain doesn’t go away after changing the position or latch of your baby. Also, your nipples may feel tender to the touch. You may feel pain when your clothing brushes against them. Other signs of a nipple yeast infection include:
- Burning or stinging sensation.
- Itchy nipples.
- Shiny red or bright pink nipples.
- Cracked nipples.
- Dry or flaky areolas (the darker ring of skin around your nipples).
- Rash with tiny blisters.
You may notice signs of thrush in your baby’s mouth. These signs include:
- Creamy, white patches on their tongue.
- Painful sores on their tongue.
- White spots on the inside of their cheeks.
What causes a nipple yeast infection?
A yeast called Candida causes nipple yeast infections. Candida grow and thrive in warm, damp environments. If your baby has oral thrush, they can pass the infection onto your nipples. Other factors that may contribute to a nipple yeast infection include:
- Damaged, cracked nipples.
- Use of breast pads.
- Previous vaginal yeast infection.
- Warm, humid climates.
- Wearing improper undergarments or not changing them frequently.
- Not drying the area around your breasts thoroughly.
- Recent use of antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill the healthy bacteria that normally live on your body. This allows Candida to grow.
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
Yeast infections are also seen more often in people with weakened immune systems. This may be because of conditions such as HIV/AIDs or diabetes. Or it may be due to the use of certain medications that suppress your immune system.
Is a nipple yeast infection contagious?
Your baby can infect you with a type of yeast infection called thrush while nursing. You and your baby may pass the yeast infection back and forth to each other, causing a cycle of discomfort.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a nipple yeast infection diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may ask you about your symptoms. Then, they’ll perform a physical examination. They may be able to diagnose a yeast infection by looking at your nipples. If you have shiny red or pink nipples, your healthcare provider may be able to determine you have a nipple yeast infection.
Your healthcare provider may want to collect a sample of your nipple discharge or fluid. They may request lab tests of the sample to determine the type of fungus.
Management and Treatment
How is a nipple yeast infection treated?
Treatment for your nipple yeast infection will typically include an antifungal medication. Your healthcare provider may recommend an antifungal cream, gel or ointment. You can apply the antifungal directly onto your nipples. You can buy many antifungal creams and other medications over-the-counter. Topical (applied to the skin) antifungal medications include:
For some cases, your healthcare provider may suggest an antifungal medication taken by mouth. This includes medications such as fluconazole. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication or a steroid cream. These can help relieve your symptoms.
If your baby has oral thrush, it’s important they receive treatment at the same time as you. If not, you could continue passing the infection back and forth between each other. But you can continue breastfeeding while you’re both being treated.
How can I prevent a nipple yeast infection?
You can prevent nipple yeast infections by keeping your breasts and nipples clean and dry. Be sure to wash your breasts and nipples with warm water after breastfeeding, and then pat them dry. Rinse your nipples with a vinegar-water solution after each feeding. Use a vinegar-water solution of 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup water. Other steps you can take to prevent nipple yeast infections include:
- Breast pads: Use disposable breast pads without waterproof liners. Change your breast pads often. If you use reusable breast pads, wash them in hot, soapy water. Boil them in a vinegar-water solution for five minutes after washing.
- Bras: Wear a clean, comfortable cotton bra. Change your bra daily. Wash your bras in hot, soapy water. Don’t sleep in your bra.
- Hand washing: Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands before and after nursing. Also, wash your hands before and after applying antifungal cream to your nipples.
- Cleaning: Clean baby items such as bottles, pacifiers, teethers, toys and breast pump parts in hot, soapy water often. Boil everything for five minutes immediately after each use.
- Diet: Avoid sugary and starchy foods, and limit alcohol. Consider adding a probiotic to your diet.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a nipple yeast infection?
You can usually treat your nipple yeast infection with an antifungal medication. But if your symptoms don’t start to clear up within a couple of weeks, talk to your healthcare provider. You may need a prescription treatment option. And don’t be surprised if your nipple yeast infection returns. Recurrences are common, especially during breastfeeding.
How long does a nipple yeast infection last?
It may take some time to get rid of your nipple yeast infection. Your nipple yeast infection may go away within a week or two of starting an antifungal treatment. But they can be difficult to treat. If your symptoms persist, see your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Nipple yeast infections are common, especially during breastfeeding. You can typically treat them with antifungal medications. But nipple yeast infections can take time and patience to get rid of. If you have symptoms of a nipple yeast infection, see your healthcare provider. They can give you proper treatment options so you’ll be feeling better as soon as possible.
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