What’s thrush?

Reviewed by Leah DeShay

Until starting your breastfeeding journey, you may have heard of only one type of yeast infection—the vaginal kind. However, there is another type, known as thrush, that is caused by a fungus that lives on our skin and elsewhere. It can be common in both the breastfeeding parent and the infant.

What it is

Thrush is a type of yeast infection that can occur on the nipples, areola, and breasts when breastfeeding. Like other types of yeast infections, it is caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, the most common fungus to live on (and in) humans—often on our skin and in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina1.

When it can occur

Research hasn’t conclusively indicated any specific time periods when thrush may be most prevalent. But you may be more prone to experiencing it, if your baby was born prematurely or had a low birth weight, or if you have a history of chronic yeast infections, which may correlate to gut microbiome imbalances. Additionally, mothers or infants who’ve been treated with an antibiotic may be more likely to experience thrush.

What causes it

Several factors can play a role in causing thrush. If you have an existing vaginal yeast infection, it may travel to other parts of your body, including your nipples and areolas, which may impact breastfeeding. Taking antibiotics can also increase the risk of thrush, so it’s a good idea to talk to your provider about taking probiotics if you need antibiotics, as this may help increase your body’s levels of good gut bacteria that can help control a fungus like Candida.

What to do

It’s generally safe to continue breastfeeding normally, if you’re experiencing thrush. To help manage your symptoms and establish a treatment plan, try the following:

  • Contact your provider or pediatrician, who may prescribe you an oral and/or topical antifungal and your baby an oral gel.
  • Sanitize (if possible) anything that touches your nipples and breasts, including your bras and pumps, as well as pacifiers and any toys that touch your baby’s mouth.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water.
  • Label any milk frozen during the infection, and ask your provider about the best way to use it.
When to get help

If you experience any itching, burning, or flaking of the skin, contact your provider to diagnose or rule out an infection. Thrush is a common cause for skin issues on the nipple or areola. But because other chronic issues, such as psoriasis or eczema, can appear with symptoms that overlap with thrush, it’s important to consult your provider before attempting any self-treatment.


1 https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html

Additional resources

What’s mastitis?

Mastitis is a noncommunicable condition marked by painful inflammation of the breast tissue in one or both breasts.

Getting sick (including Covid-19) while breastfeeding

While any illness can present challenges to taking care of a baby, most do not require you to stop breastfeeding.

What is breast edema?

Breast edema is the congestion of fluids in the interstitial tissue between milk ducts, typically before transitional milk comes in.