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How to Identify and Treat Oral Thrush in Babies

How to Identify and Treat Oral Thrush in Babies

I remember nursing my six week old baby Ophelia, when I noticed some white spots in her mouth that didn’t seem to go away. After a bit of research, I learned that the shooting pains I had while nursing and the white spots in her mouth were both signs of thrush.

I had been battling a yeast infection throughout the last half of my pregnancy with her, and I thought I had gotten rid of it…but apparently not. It was quite an ordeal to identify and heal from this fungus, and I just wanted to share my journey of what I did and what I learned along the way that helped us to finally get rid of Ophelia’s oral thrush and my nipple thrush, which essentially saved our breastfeeding relationship.

Oral Thrush in Babies

Oral thrush occurs when there is an overgrowth of the fungus Candida Albicans in the mouth.

Oral Thrush in a Baby (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Doc James, 2010)

Oral Thrush in a Baby (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Doc James, 2010)

Candida Albicans lives in the gastrointestinal tract of most adults and children as one of the microbes that helps to break down undigested food. It is only a problem when it grows out of control. This picture below is actually of a young child who had Candidiasis after taking a round of antibiotics, and while not an infant with oral thrush, I think it gives a really nice image of what happens when Candida grows out of control.

A Child with Oral Candidiasis (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Doc James, 2010)

A Child with Oral Candidiasis (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Doc James, 2010)

Oral thrush typically presents itself in the fourth week of a baby’s life. It is very rare in the first week of life and after 6-9 months of age. As many as 39% of infants will develop thrush in the first few months of life.

Nipple Thrush in Nursing Mothers

Because breastfeeding provides a warm, moist, sugary environment, which is precisely where Candida thrives, babies can easily pass their oral thrush to the mother’s nipples, especially if they are already cracked or sore because of a bad latch. If the thrush isn’t treated, it can pass back and forth between mother and baby.

Causes of Oral Thrush

  1. Yeast Infection During Vaginal Birth: New babies are born with a clean gastrointestinal tract void of any microbes whatsoever. Within hours of birth, however, they start to build their own gut flora through exposure to the mother’s vaginal and fecal flora during a vaginal birth, breastfeeding, and exposure to the environment. If the mother has a yeast infection during a vaginal birth, however, the yeast will be one of the first microbes entering a baby’s clean and pristine gastrointestinal tract.
  2. C-Section Birth: If a mother delivers her baby by c-section (as one-third of mothers in the U.S. do), the baby will not getting any of her vaginal or fecal flora, which helps to populate the baby’s gut with healthy microbes. This new study shows how the baby’s gut flora can be disturbed for up to 6 months after a c-section birth, and this study shows how a c-section delivery leads to more pathogenic microbes (including Escherichia coli and Clostridium difficile) populating the baby’s gut. When the good microbes aren’t there first, it makes it very easy for the bad ones to take over.
  3. Antibiotics: If a mother tests positive for group B strep (which affects 25% of women), she will be given antibiotics during labor that will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Routine antibiotics are also given after a c-section (and sometimes before) to ward off infection. Antibiotics wipe out all bacteria good and bad, and when a newborn baby is having something introduced to its system that wipes out all of the bacteria before there is any, it makes it easier for something like Candida to take hold and grow out of control.
  4. Steroid Use: If a baby needed a nebulizer and inhaled corticosteroids for say, a bad case of croup, any steroids that get in the mouth can lead to oral thrush.

Signs of Oral Thrush

  1. White Patches in Baby’s Mouth: It might look like little milk spots in your baby’s mouth, but unlike milk spots, they won’t go away on their own. If you tried to scrape them off, you’ll notice that it’s actually an inflamed lesion that may bleed.
  2. Refusing to Nurse: Your baby may refuse nursing or be reluctant to nurse because its painful.
  3. Fussy Baby: Your baby may seem particularly fussy or up a lot in the night.
  4. Yeasty Diaper Rash: Sometimes a yeasty diaper rash will accompany oral thrush. Look for a diaper rash that’s red and inflamed with small blistery lesions that won’t go away with typical diaper rash treatments. I battled this with my son on and off for months. We tried the pharmacist’s recommended “magic butt paste” (which is just regular diaper rash cream mixed with Monistat) which kind of worked, but once we gave him some probiotics, the rash immediately went away and never came back again.

Signs of Thrush in Momma

  1. Painful Nursing: Nursing should not be painful. If it is, it might be a sign of thrush, especially if you’ve ruled out a bad latch. I remember Nursing Ophelia (who was two weeks old at the time) in front of my sister (who was pregnant for the first time) and she looked at me in shock and horror as I all but howled in pain as Ophelia latched on. The intense pain subsided after a bit and I just thought, well, this is part of nursing. But after I treated the thrush, the intense pain went away. (With her being my third baby, you’d think I would have known better, but I have had some sort of breastfeeding problems with all of my four children!)
  2. Shooting Pains: You may feel a deep shooting pain that occurs during or after feedings because the thrush can embed itself deep within your breast tissue.
  3. Cracked Nipples: Your nipples may also be pink or red, shiny, flaky, and/or have a rash with tiny blisters.
  4. Yeast Infection: If you have thrush, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a yeast infection too.

How to Cure Momma’s Thrush

  1. Limit Sugar: Thrush is caused by Candida and Candida feeds on sugar. You don’t have to give up sugar forever, but if you can get limit Candida’s food source while treating thrush (especially in the form of pure sugar and processed foods), it will be much easier to get rid of.
  2. Probiotics: Probiotics, such as lactobacillus, feed on sugar too (and prebiotics, which can be found in such foods as raw onion, garlic, and asparagus…or as a supplement), and unless they are wiped out by antibiotics or a poor diet, they will keep the Candida in check. You can get them from fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough, kimchi, keifer, and yogurt. When battling thrush, however, I suggest getting them in a stronger format as well. My favorite probiotics for treating Candida are Bio Kult Candea and Custom Probiotics.
  3. Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral miracle worker. I tried every remedy under the sun, but when I used apple cider vinegar, I was finally able to eliminate the thrush. This is what I did.
    • First, mix a solution in a peri bottle with about 2 T. of apple cider vinegar and the rest filtered water (chlorine free).
    • Then, after every breastfeeding session, squirt some onto some cotton balls and wipe your nipples, then throw those cotton balls away!
    • *If you’re pumping and/or using bottles, you have to really sterilize these components after every use. You can use apple cider vinegar, but really hot water will do the trick too.
    • In addition, wash all of your bras and anything your nipples come in contact with hot water and with apple cider vinegar added to the rinse cycle.
    • You can also mix 6 T. per gallon of water (or about 1 t. per 8 ounces) and drink throughout the day to heal from the inside out.
  4. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a soothing anti-fungal topical treatment. After I cleaned my nipples with apple cider vinegar, it felt really soothing and healing to dab a little coconut oil on them. You can also heal yourself from Candida from the inside out by eating it.
  5. Fresh Air: Candida can survive in oxygen, but it really thrives in dark, oxygen free areas. Going shirtless will not only feel good, but your husband/partner might get a kick out of it too! Get some sunlight on those nipples for extra measure because that also kills the fungus.
  6. *Gentian Violet: They say you can paint your nipples with Gentian Violet to get rid of thrush, but when I tried it, it caused Ophelia to go on a complete nursing strike. It was awful. I do not recommend using this on your nipples unless perhaps you plan to pump and bottle feed.
  7. *Grapefruit Seed Extract: I’ve read that you can mix Grapefruit Seed Extract with equal parts water and clean your nipples with it, much the same way that I did with the apple cider vinegar. I did not try this method, but it seems like it might work. (Read more here.)

How to Cure Baby’s Thrush

  1. Coconut Oil: If you leave some coconut oil on your nipples, your baby can get some that way. You can also dab a little coconut oil on the thrush spots.
  2. Infant Probiotic: I really like this infant probiotic. If you had to have antibiotics for any reason or delivered by c-section so your baby didn’t get any good bacteria from your vaginal tract, I would highly recommend a good probiotic supplement regardless of whether or not your baby has thrush. But if your baby does have thrush (obviously, because that’s why you’re probably reading this) this will really help your baby to populate his or her gut with beneficial bacteria that can crowd out the yeast and help to get rid of the oral thrush. You can mix a little bit with your breast milk and feed it to your baby with a dropper, and/or you can make a little mixture and paint it on the thrush spots with your finger or a q-tip.
  3. Gentian Violet: Gentian violet is an anti-fungal that can be used topically to help get rid of thrush. When Ophelia’s thrush progressed from a few white spots to her entire tongue being coated white (after I misused Grapefruit Seed Extract), I turned to Gentian Violet as a last resort. It tastes awful, it can cause your baby to have an upset tummy, and it shouldn’t be used excessively because there are claims that it can be a carcinogen (when used regularly for two years at 600 times the recommended dose…sorry mice) and lead to mouth ulcers (when not diluted), but after three days of meticulous treatment, Ophelia’s thrush was totally and completely healed. I highly recommend this as a cure for baby’s oral thrush. Here’s are a few tips for using it so that it will be effective:
    Treating Ophelia's Thrush with Gentian Violet

    Treating Ophelia’s Thrush with Gentian Violet

    • Gentian violet will stain everything purple, so put some Vaseline or Bag Balm on your baby’s lips and around her or his mouth before applying it. This will make it easier to clean up the purple drool.
    • Dress your baby in clothes that you don’t mind ruining. (This goes for you too.) I found it helpful to put a bib on Ophelia as well.
    • Get the 1% solution, and mix with equal parts water. (It is too strong if left undiluted. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it will be more effective if you don’t dilute it.)
    • Using a q-tip, paint every part of your baby’s mouth, especially the tongue. This stuff tastes awful and your baby will hate it. I found it best to paint once in the morning, maybe once in the afternoon if it wore off, and once at night. (Don’t exceed three dosages in a day.)
    • Do your best to make sure your baby doesn’t swallow any. It can lead to an upset tummy.
    • You need to do this for three full days/nights. If you miss a dosage and don’t complete the cycle, the fungus will come back stronger and be even harder to treat.
  4. *Grapefruit Seed Extract: I read a lot of articles, reviews, and blogs about Gentian Violet and grapefruit seed extract when Ophelia had thrush, and I decided to go with the grapefruit seed extract first, but it did not go so well. First of all, I made the mistake of not diluting it, so maybe it would actually work if you didn’t do this. (It should be more effective if it’s stronger, right? Not.) I painted it on the thrush spots in her mouth, and they seemed to completely go away in a day, but then the next day, there were more and more and more spots until her entire tongue was coated white. It was like in the absence of the Grapefruit Seed Extract, the fungus grew even stronger and completely took over. It was at this point that I turned to the Gentian Violet which totally worked.
  5. Nystatin: Nystatin is what your doctor will probably prescribe if you take your baby to the doctor to treat the oral thrush (which I don’t recommend unless this is your last resort). Nystatin is an oral medication that is meant to be used topically on the areas where thrush is appearing. There are claims that it’s 80% effective, but that seems a bit high to me. When Ophelia got thrush, I combed threads on the Internet (not always the most reliable sources, I know, but I like reading about personal accounts) and read time and time and time again about how mothers would go to the doctor, get Nystatin for their babies, deal with the side effects of: mouth irritation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, rash, skin irritation, and/or allergic reactions, have the first dose not work, try another dose, still not have it work, and eventually give up on breastfeeding. I actually knew someone who got thrush at the same time as I did with her new baby and she used Nystatin as a remedy. It did not work, and she ended up not being able to breastfeed anymore. Personally, I would try all of these other remedies before turning to Nystatin as an absolute last resort.

In Conclusion

Dealing with oral thrush was probably one of the toughest postpartum things I’ve ever had to deal with, and through much trial and error, I’m glad we were able to finally beat it. With baby number four, I made darn sure to get rid of my yeast infection during pregnancy so that we would not have to deal with this again, and let me tell you, prevention is a much easier path! I also enjoyed researching and learning about why pregnant women are more prone to yeast infections, and I learned some fascinating information along the way. The bottom line is that thrush is nasty nasty business and it is worth all of the effort to prevent it and get rid of not just the symptoms, but the root cause as well.

How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant

10 Tips for Getting Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant

If you are pregnant and have a yeast infection, put down the cake! I repeat, PUT DOWN THE CAKE! If you want to learn how too much sugar (and a lack of probiotics) creates a breeding ground for yeast infections during pregnancy, check out my blog Why Pregnant Women are More Prone to Yeast Infections. But if you’re just “itching” for a cure, read on.

After five pregnancies and plenty of yeast infections, I think I’ve finally figured out how to get rid of yeast infections while pregnant. Getting a yeast infection while pregnant is the worst because it can be painful, bothersome, and really hard to get rid of. In addition, it can lead to thrush in both you and your new baby after birth, and dealing with thrush makes having a yeast infection while pregnant seem like a walk in the park. So you really really really want to make sure your yeast infection is gone by the time you give birth.

28 weeks pregnant at a midwife appointment

28 Weeks Pregnant with Ophelia

How to Know if You Have a Yeast Infection

It’s recommended that the first time you have a yeast infection, you go to the doctor to have it properly diagnosed, but once you’ve gotten them a few times, you’ll just know. Here are the things to look for.

  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Pain or burning during urination or sex
  • Redness
  • Swollen
  • Possibly a thick, clumpy, white discharge that has no odor and looks like cottage cheese

Bacterial vaginosis (and some sexually transmitted diseases) can have many of the same symptoms, but the bacterial vaginosis discharge will have a “fishy” odor to it. They say you’ll need antibiotics to cure it, but if you take antibiotics, it will wipe out all of your bacteria (both good and bad), and it will make your chances of getting a yeast infection EVEN WORSE. I can only imagine that going from bacterial vaginosis to a yeast infection would be no fun!

When to Try Natural Remedies

Whenever I’m pregnant, I can feel my body changing in many ways, and with each subsequent pregnancy (currently rocking #5 as I update this blog), I can feel my candida issues flare up again. I know this is because of the way my body processes sugar and other things (read more about WHY pregnant women are more prone to yeast infections here), and it’s never any fun to deal with.

I always start with all of the natural remedies first when I feel the faintest itch of a yeast infection tingling, and by doing so, I am often able to keep things at bay…but once my symptoms turn into a full blown yeast infection, then the natural remedies actually seem to make things worse.

When you think about how candida albicans works, you have to understand that first of all it is a natural part of our digestive system living in our colon helping us ferment our undigested food (i.e. prebiotics…read more about the fascinating world of digestion here), and second of all, during pregnancy it can very easily grow out of control. It is a living organism and will fight to survive, hence the reason why it grows stronger and more resilient when you start to battle it. But stay strong sister, and you can win this war!

1. Over the Counter Anti-Fungal Medication

So, if I’ve tried all of the natural preventative measures and things still progress to a full blown yeast infection, I’ll run out to the drug store and shell out the $15 for the cheapest 3 or 7-day anti-fungal treatment. Now, don’t make the same mistake that I did with my first pregnancy and get the one day treatment. You are too sensitive while pregnant to handle such intensity, and it will burn like the dickens!

Most over the counter brands will list clotrimazole or miconazole as the active ingredient. The miconazole is more specifically designed to kill fungus in the vagina and the clotrimazole is typically used for skin fungus, so I would go with that miconazole first. (This is my favorite 3-day treatment.) Then, insert the capsules/cream every day for the full amount of recommended time. Even if your symptoms go away, keep going the full three or seven days or else the fungus will come back even stronger!

Now, it’s important to note that this remedy only treats the symptoms, not the cause. So, if you were to use ONLY this treatment, it is very likely that the underlying reasons that caused the yeast infection to appear in the first place will still be in place and cause yet another yeast infection.

2. Chamomile

I recently attended a nutrition class for pregnant women and learned that chamomile is actually very good at killing candida overgrowth! It is also super safe for pregnant women and has a calming effect as well. You can drink chamomile tea or even take chamomile supplements. You might want to start here before using the over the counter medication as well.

3. Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

This is what I did during my fourth pregnancy that helped me to FINALLY get rid of my chronic and ongoing yeast infection! All of the other tips certainly help as well, but this was truly the nail in the coffin. Apple cider vinegar is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral miracle worker. It acts like a sponge and draws out germs and toxins from the surrounding tissue. It also stimulates acetolysis in which toxic wastes (like candida) are broken down and rendered harmless.

To make an apple cider vinegar rinse, take a peri bottle and fill it with about 2 T. of apple cider vinegar and the rest filtered water (chlorine free), and put it near your toilet. After you wipe (always front to back), squirt the solution on the outside of your vagina and let it air dry. (Stand in front of a fan for extra relief!) I would also do this after getting out of the shower. I continued to do this for at least a week or two after my symptoms were gone to make sure the infection was really eliminated, and this was REALLY helpful!

You can actually squirt it inside the vagina or douche with it if you want, but I would wait until the irritation is gone, however, or else it will really burn. You can also make the solution a little stronger if you’re brave enough, but if it’s too strong, it will burn even if you’re not irritated at the time.

4. Garlic

Garlic is one of nature’s greatest infection fighters. Not only does it help to stimulate the immune system, but it destroys candida (among other pathogens) and inhibits its growth.

At the first signs of a yeast infection, you can take a peeled clove of garlic and insert it into your vagina, usually at night, and then take it out the next morning. If the yeast infection is in the early stages, you might be able to kill it off this way after one or two nights. I have heard stories of this working for others, but it has just never worked very well for me…plus I don’t like how it makes my entire body smell like garlic.

I prefer instead to take these garlic supplements instead. They provide all of the benefits of garlic without giving you garlic breath! Whenever you use any natural method, you want to mix things up a bit so that the yeast doesn’t become resistant to your treatments, so I’ll typically take these garlic supplements for a few days (in the morning, 20 minutes or so after eating some food), give it a break for a few more days while using something else, and then use them again until my symptoms are gone.

5. Eat Fermented Foods

Fermented foods such as anything like sourdough, kombucha, yogurt, keifer, and sauerkraut are full of healthy probiotics (such as lactobacilli) that help to crowd out the yeast and keep it from growing out of control. I always try to eat as many of these foods as I can anyways, but especially so when I’m pregnant. I always have a jar of sourdough starter on my counter, and when I feel the mere tinglings of a yeast infection, or just as a preventative measure, I like to eat a small spoonful of the starter first thing in the morning (after a bit of food would probably be better, but I never remember that!). Recently, I had a friend make me some lacto-fermented sauerkraut, and I’ve really been enjoying that as well.

When you’re trying to get rid of a yeast infection, it’s really a balanced approach between killing the fungus and then crowding it out with good bacteria. Fermented foods are an excellent way to populate your vagina (along with your gastrointestinal tract) with good bacteria.

If you have good gut health, it’s also important to include plenty of prebiotic foods so that the probiotics will have something to feed on. Prebiotics are different kinds of fiber that we can’t digest, but that encourage beneficial species of gut flora to grow. They include dandelion greens, garlic and onions, asparagus, and chicory (found in teccino, a wonderful coffee substitute). If you have poor gut health, however, these prebiotic foods may cause stomach pains, gas, and bloating.

6. Probiotic Supplements

While fermented foods are great, sometimes you just need an extra boost, especially if you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics that have wiped out not only the bad bacteria, but the good as well, and you need to repopulate your gut.

I have taken many different types of probiotic treatments, and these two have been my favorite. Bio Kult Candea is specifically designed to deal with candida. It has a garlic component that makes it have a bit of an odor, but it really works. Custom Probiotics come very highly recommended and work very well for eliminating yeast infections. When I have felt a yeast infection coming on, I like to alternate between these two brands and take two every morning after eating a bit of food. I have tried other probiotic supplements (such as the ones you’ll find in the grocery store) in the past and didn’t really notice much of a difference, but with these brands (and by following these other steps), my yeast infection would go away and not keep reoccurring.

*Note: With my fifth pregnancy, I added a probiotic to daily vitamin routine, and it was really helpful with preventing yeast infections.

7. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has capric acid, caprylic acid, and lauric acid that are all medium chain fatty acids that have great anti-fungal propertiesDr. Bruce Fife, a naturopathic physician and certified nutritionist and president of the Coconut Research Center in Colorado Springs, CO, explains that,

“Medium chain fatty acids penetrate cell membranes….when they’re absorbed by an organism that is not beneficial, they penetrate the cell membrane and weaken the cell, so it just disintegrates. Then white blood cells go in and gobble up the waste material.”

I love using as much coconut oil in my cooking as possible to help prevent and treat yeast infections, but you could also put a spoonful in your tea every morning, just batten down the hatches and eat a spoonful straight up, or you can take a caprylic acid capsule. Whenever I feel a yeast infection starting, I pop a few of these every morning.

8. Eliminate Sugar

Ok, so I’m hiding this one towards the end, because it sucks, but it is really THE most important step. If you are pregnant, past your 23rd week, and battling a yeast infection, you absolutely have to give up sugar (which is basically in all processed foods) to help get rid of your yeast infection for good. You can read my blog: The Real Reason Why Pregnant Women Get Yeast Infections to learn more about the science of why this is, but basically, your hormones are causing your blood sugar to sky rocket which creates an optimal breeding ground for candida. In order to really get rid of the candida, you have to reduce its food source…sugar.

Now, I’m not talking about complex carbohydrates here…you need those to fuel your body and your growing baby. I’m talking about pure sugar…Little Debbies, Laffy Taffy, Oreos, white bread, etc.

I think it’s best to eliminate sugar cold turkey. You might feel miserable at first because as the candida dies, it tries to fight it and you get these nasty die off symptoms (head aches, brain fog, fatigue), but they’ll go away after a short time, and then you will feel better than ever. When I’ve gone on a candida cleanse, this website has been really helpful in providing dietary guidelines.

Just beware that if you ever cut out ALL carbohydrates to try to completely starve the candida, it will turn into its most virulent form that can reek even more havoc on your body. You’re not trying to completely eliminate the yeast, just keep it under control. 

9. Take Care of Yourself

If you’re like me, the first trimester tiredness is just brutal, and as you enter the 2nd trimester, you might take for granted how good you feel and start to get a bit lax on the sleep. But by taking care of your body by first of all getting PLENTY of rest, your body’s immune system can work in its optimal state to help you fend off pathogens like candida. Next, it’s important to fill yourself with nutrient dense food and avoid commercial processed crap as much as you can. You are growing a human being and you need to eat…and eat well! Don’t wait until you’re starving and eat an entire box of Oreos! Plan out those meals in advance (check out my favorite recipes here), and feed yourself…and your growing baby some good food!

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, these Pure Radiance 100% natural vitamin C capsules are AMAZING! I also like taking this Organic Liquid Prenatal Formula (I hate swallowing big bulky prenatal pills!) and this Fermented Cod Liver Oil (or this if our budget is a little tight). 

10. Let Your Vagina Breathe

Candida thrives in warm wet areas where there is no oxygen, and so in order to prevent candida from growing out of control, you want to let your vagina breathe. You can do this by wearing cotton panties like these, which are very comfortable while you’re pregnant anyways!

A big mistake I made while pregnant was wearing panty liners every day for any accidents (Watch yourself when you sneeze, you will pee a little bit!) and/or leakage, but I really think this contributed to my yeast infection problem. A better option would have been something like this or just changing my underwear more often. You’ll also want to avoid wearing super tight skinny jeans, and instead opt for something more comfortable like these. And of course, don’t sit around all day with a wet bathing suit on.

Other Remedies

  • Gentian Violet: When I was researching Gentian Violet for my oral thrush article, I came across a comment from a verified purchase on Amazon where the woman soaked tampons in Gentian Violet and inserted them for seven days and totally healed her chronic yeast infections. Gentian Violet worked wonders getting rid of my baby’s oral thrush, so I would have to say that this sounds like a pretty good idea if you’re desperate for a cure.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: I have heard a lot of positive information lately about using a hydrogen peroxide rinse to get rid of yeast infections. This makes sense since when the lactobacilli in a healthy vagina “feed” on glycogen, one of their byproducts is actually hydrogen peroxide. But when I’ve tried this remedy, I’ve found that it has no effect.

Remedies to Avoid While Pregnant

  • *Grapefruit Seed Extract: Grapefruit seed extract can be taken orally or applied topically, and in addition to killing yeast, it has vitamin A, E, and bioflavanoids. But it’s not technically recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women because it can be toxic if taken at 4,000 times the suggested dose (so I think it’s okay to use at the recommended dosage). I tried it when I was battling thrush with my little newborn baby, it only sort of worked, and it seemed to bother her, so I’m not sure about this one.
  • *Boric Acid: The link above also mentions putting some boric acid into a hydrogen peroxide douche, and while boric acid is good at treating persistent and recurring yeast infections where you may be battling a different strain of candida, it is not recommended for pregnant women.
  • *Oregano Capsules: Oregano oil is really great at preventing and treating yeast infections because it contains two very effective antimicrobial agents called carvacrol and thymol that react with the water in your bloodstream to dehydrate and kill the Candida yeast cells. Unfortunately, it increases the blood flow to the uterus which weakens the lining around the fetus, so you don’t want to take it while you’re pregnant.
  • *Oral Fluconazole: Fluconazole (or the brand name Diflucan) are both oral antifungal medications. They are processed by the liver and enter the bloodstream where they attack the fungus. but this is very hard on your liver, and if you’re pregnant, it can harm the fetus. Also, if you are taking oral birth control, it can make it less effective. (But geez louise, I hope you’re not taking birth control when you’re pregnant!) The oral medications are recommended for women that have been battling an ongoing yeast infection for a year or more.

In Conclusion

Treating any type of candida overgrowth is really a three step process.

  1. Kill the Fungus/Control the Overgrowth – You can never completely get rid of it because it’s a part of the digestive process, but you can control the overgrowth.
  2. Probiotics – Candida and probiotics both feed on the same thing…sugar, so make sure you have more probiotics in your gut rather than candida.
  3. Diet – Eliminate processed foods and sugar and instead opt for as much nutrient dense food as you can.

Treating a yeast infection while pregnant can be a very stressful and frustrating thing when you feel like no matter what you do, you can’t really get rid of it. It’s not something to be taken lightly, however, because if a baby is born vaginally when the mother has a yeast infection, it can pass the candida on to the baby, which may turn into thrush. Thrush can make breastfeeding both difficult and painful, and it is even harder to get rid of than a yeast infection during pregnancy. Read by blog: How to Identify and Deal with Oral Thrush in Babies for more information about this topic.

So, do whatever you can to completely eliminate your yeast infection during pregnancy by following the steps that make sense to you and your situation. Good Luck!

Why Pregnant Women are More Prone to Yeast Infections

Why Pregnant Women are More Prone to Yeast Infections and Gestational Diabetes

The real reason why pregnant women get yeast infections (or any woman for that matter) isn’t really talked about or widely known in laymen’s terms. The same reasons are what also contributes to pregnant women getting gestational diabetes. When I’ve asked the Internet to tell me about this topic, every single blog, website, and article seems to regurgitate the same simplistic information, but I am sick of treating the symptoms of yeast infections during pregnancy without really knowing WHY, and so I set out to find the root cause, and this is what I found.

Eating Ice Cream While Pregnant

Eating Ice Cream While Pregnant

The real reason why pregnant women get yeast infections has to do with these two main factors:

  1. The increase in estrogen while pregnant (which also occurs during menstruation, from oral contraceptives, and through hormone replacement therapy) leads to an increase in glycogen, which is supposed to “feed” the lactobacilli that reside in a healthy vagina, but if no lactobacilli are present (thanks to antibiotics for one or just poor gut flora for another) and candida is present, the candida will grow unchecked until there is an overgrowth, hence creating a yeast infection.
  2. Human Placental Lactogen hormone (hPL), which is produced by the placenta in increasing amounts until the 23rd week when it plateaus, shuttles incoming glucose to the baby, meanwhile leaving the mother hungry so she reaches for more and more “glucose” which creates higher and higher blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance and gestational diabetes at an accelerated rate, and this high blood sugar paves the way for candida growth and yeast infections.

So basically, when pregnant women have poor gut flora and continue to eat large amounts of sugar, it sets up an environment that is the “perfect storm” for yeast infections. If you’d like to explore these concepts further, come and learn with me, but if you’re just “itchin'” for a cure, check out my blog: How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant.

The Role of Glycogen in the Vagina

The vaginal walls are made up of vaginal squamous epithelial cells that store glycogen. Glycogen is how the body stores small amounts of carbohydrates which are later broken down into glucose and used by the cells for energy.

Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cells (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fæ, 2013)

Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cells (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fæ, 2013)

In the vagina, glycogen acts as a prebiotic that feeds lactobacilli bacteria (commonly known as a probiotic, or good bacteria). So basically, the lactobacilli bacteria feeds on the glycogen.

Lactobacillus Organisms and Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cell (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Rasbak, 2006)

Lactobacillus Organisms and Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cell (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Rasbak, 2006)

During this process of feeding on the glycogen, lactobacilli produce two byproducts. The first byproduct is lactic acid, which helps to further reduce the pH of the vagina. The second byproduct is hydrogen peroxide, which is also acidic and repels unfriendly vaginal flora, such as candida albicans, escherichia coli, and gardnerella vaginalis (this is why there are natural remedies to cure yeast infections that call for the use of hydrogen perioxide). So basically, the role of glycogen (how the body stores carbohydrates, i.e. sugar) is to feed lactobacilli bacteria, which helps to keep the vagina in its optimal acidic state.

How Estrogen Effects Glycogen

When estrogen levels are high (specifically estridol), it encourages more glycogen to be released. Estrogen levels are high during menstruation, from the use of oral contraceptives, through hormone replacement therapy, and they are especially through the roof high during pregnancy. So when estrogen levels are high, the lactobacilli bacteria should have more to feed on due to the increase in glycogen. This is the body’s way of ensuring extra protection against microbial pathogens during a special time when the body is preparing to grow life.

How Glycogen Feeds Candida

Now, let’s say that more glycogen is being released due to an increase in estrogen, but there aren’t enough lactobacilli bacteria (maybe because a dose of antibiotics wiped them all out or there were just never many to begin with due to poor gut flora) to consume them. What then? Well, what we would have then is a vagina ripe with glycogen, which will be released into the vagina as glucose. So there will be a nice sugary vagina. And let’s see, what likes sugar?

Candida!

Candida albicans is a fungus, or a yeast, that lives in everyone’s gastrointestinal tract as one of the microbes that aid in digestion.

Candida Albicans (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Y tambe, 2005)

Candida Albicans (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Y tambe, 2005)

It also makes it’s way into most women’s vaginas via the anus and lives there benignly until it’s given an opportunity to feed voraciously. (Don’t wipe back to front!) When someone takes antibiotics to wipe out a bacterial infection, it also wipes out all of the good bacteria (lactobacilli) too. Poor gut flora can also happen over time due to a diet rich in sugar and carbohydrates.

So without the competition of lactobacilli, candida can feed on the increased glycogen uninhibited, and it can lead to an overgrowth of candida. This overgrowth of candida is what is commonly referred to as a yeast infection. (If you want to learn more about how Candida transforms from a benign unicellular yeast to a destructive multicellular fungus, this is a great article.)

Human Placental Lactogen (hPL)

So estrogen is why menstruating women, women on birth control, and women on hormone replacement therapy are more prone to yeast infections, but human placental lactogen (hPL) is why pregnant women (who have more estrogen coursing through their veins than ever before) are even more prone to getting really serious yeast infections that are very hard to get rid of.

hPL is produced by the placenta in a greater amount than any other hormone during pregnancy. Its primary function is to prepare the breasts for lactation by stimulating breast growth and the secretion of colostrum, but it also affects the way that the mother uses food for energy. It does this by decreasing the mother’s use of amino acids (protein) and glucose (carbohydrates) so that it can instead shuttle them over to the growing fetus. It also stimulates the breakdown of maternal fats (lipolysis) which is usually done by Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL) when the mother is not pregnant. The mother then uses these fatty acids for energy and saves the glucose for the baby.

hPL Leads to Insulin Resistance

Insulin is what allows the cells to use glucose for energy. I like to think of insulin like a parent and glucose as a lost child. Glucose enters the body, but can’t figure out where to go. Insulin comes along, holds glucose’s hand, and leads it into the cells where it can be converted into energy via cellular respiration or stored for later use as glycogen or in fat cells. When too much glucose is in the blood stream over a long period of time, however, cells can start to become resistant to it, and so the body releases more insulin to combat the increasing blood sugar, but over time, the insulin isn’t as effective, and this is what is known as insulin resistance.

hPL makes a pregnant women rapidly become insulin resistant, and the research that I’ve seen is a little foggy on why this occurs. But by the 23rd week of pregnancy, hPL has reached its peak with a 30-fold increase. This increase in hPL can cause an increasing resistance in the mother’s tissue to insulin that can make her blood sugar start to go through the roof.

I feel like the logical explanation is that diet is at least partially to blame for this insulin resistance. If a woman isn’t fat adapted leading up to pregnancy, meaning that she’s not able to easily use fat (including stored fat) for energy, and is instead a sugar burner who can only use the fleeting resources of glucose for energy, then when hPL shuttles the incoming glucose to the baby and induces lipolysis that breaks down fat to be used for energy that she’s not able to use, she feels absolutely STARVING. And then, rather than cook some wholesome bone broth soup, or make some grass fed beef burgers, or even take the time to cook an organic baked potato loaded with butter, cheese, and sour cream, she instead reaches for a bag of chips or treats herself to a milkshake because, “Hey, I’m eating for two, for once in my life I don’t have to worry about gaining weight, and back off because…I’M STARVING!”.

And THEN, the poor hPL surging, insulin resistant, and constantly hungry mother takes her glucose screening test between 24-28 weeks, and if she finds out that her blood sugar is too high, she will have to practically eliminate all sugar so that she won’t get gestational diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

When the mother has high blood sugar that leads to gestational diabetes, her excess sugar enters the baby’s blood stream and forces its pancreas to make extra insulin. Because the baby is getting more energy than it needs, the extra energy is stored as fat, which is known scientifically as “fat” baby or macrosomia. This can cause damage to the babies’ shoulders at birth and lead to an increased risk of c-sections.

Because of the extra insulin produced, newborns may have low blood glucose levels at birth and are at higher risk for breathing problems. (Not to mention that they’ll want to give your baby formula or sugar water at birth which could affect your breastfeeding relationship.) It also makes them more at risk for insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes as adults. Gestational diabetes affects up to 9.2% of pregnancies

How hSL Contributes to Candida

Just as an increase in estrogen leads to the increased production of glycogen that leads to a more “sugary vagina”, the hormone hSL does the same thing by leading to insulin resistance which creates higher blood sugar, and once again, a more “sugary vagina” that gives the candida more to feed on. In a vagina that has been stripped of lactobacilli that typically feed on the increased sugar during pregnancy, the candida have no competition and can multiply unchecked until they create an overgrowth known as a yeast infection.

How to Prevent a Yeast Infection

When you get pregnant, just know that you are going to be super susceptible to getting yeast infections and take every precautionary measure that you can to prevent one from starting.

  • Don’t take antibiotics, and if you do, follow up with a good probiotic like this or this.
  • Don’t eat too much sugar (or foods that break down easily into sugar, i.e. all refined carbohydrates). Eat a balanced diet that includes lots of healthy saturated fats.
  • Eat lots of lacto-fermented foods (sourdough, kombucha, sauerkraut, keifer, yogurt) to help build a colony of lactobacilli.
  • Avoid douching and keep your vagina clean using mild, unscented soap and water.
  • Wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria and yeast from your anus to your vagina.
  • Wear good cotton underwear like these. And don’t wear pantyliners every day because of “leaking”. Just change your panties! Your vagina needs to breathe.
  • Avoid tight fitting pants. Instead, get comfortable in something like this.
  • Change out of a wet swimsuit right away. This just creates an optimal breeding ground for candida.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, the real reason that we get more yeast infections while pregnant has to do with our changing hormones, namely the increase of estrogen and the presence and increase of hPL and how they both lead to a “sugary vagina” that becomes an optimal breeding ground for candida, especially when there aren’t any good lactobacilli bacteria to consume the extra sugar.

If you’re pregnant and not experiencing any signs of a yeast infection, just be careful and take preventative measures to assure that you don’t get one, but if it’s too late for prevention, and you already have a yeast infection while pregnant (or think you might), you’ll want to check out my blog: How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant. Having a yeast infection while pregnant can lead to both you and your baby dealing with thrush, and that is just nasty business. Read my blog: How to Identify and Deal with Oral Thrush in Babies to learn more about this topic.