Overview of Candida and Its Tell-Tale Symptoms

Pregnant woman hold hands on her belly

If you're breastfeeding and your nipples are unusually sore and painful, or you're having pain when the baby feeds, you may be experiencing candida symptoms. Candida can affect your baby, too, causing white patches in the baby's mouth and a certain kind of diaper rash. Candida can make babies irritable and interfere with feeding.

About Candida

Candida is a kind of fungus, also called thrush, monilia, or yeast. It's a normal to have some candida on your skin, but too much can cause itching, burning, and tenderness. Candida likes warm, moist places, so candida infections are most common in places like skin folds, a baby's mouth or diaper area, and a woman's vagina. When a woman is breastfeeding, chapped skin on the nipples, combined with dampness from breast milk and the baby's saliva, can create a comfortable environment for candida.

Candida Symptoms in the Breast

Doctors are still studying how common candida breast infections really are. Tests suggest that candida can be mixed in with bacteria, making it hard to tell what's actually causing the symptoms. However, treatment for candida seems to help many breastfeeding women who are having pain.

The following signs and symptoms are commonly used to diagnose candida infections in breastfeeding women:

  • Very sore nipples, with burning, itching, or redness
  • Shooting pains in the breasts during feeding
  • A sudden increase in nipple soreness, or nipple pain that is new
  • Shiny or flaky skin around your nipples

Treatment for candida symptoms in the breast usually includes an antifungal cream, and sometimes also pills with antifungal medicine. Your doctor will probably have you treat your baby, too, since candida is passed easily between mother and baby. See the LoveToKnow article on Candida for more information.

Candida or Mastitis?

Problems which resemble candida symptoms can also come from a bacterial infection called mastitis. Mastitis may cause sore nipples, pain during feeding, swelling in your breast, redness in a wedged-shaped pattern, fever, and a general feeling of being ill. If you have mastitis, you will need antibiotics.

Candida and Your Baby

It's not uncommon for babies to have candida infections in their mouths. These infections are commonly called thrush. Since candida is easily spread back and forth between the baby's mouth and your breast, it's important to recognize if your baby has thrush.

Thrush appears as whitish plaques on the inside of the baby's cheeks, on the roof of the mouth, or on the tongue. The plaques cannot be scraped off easily, and in fact might bleed a little if you try to wipe them away. White spots that do wipe away easily are probably just milk left from the last feeding. Often, the baby doesn't seem to have any discomfort from thrush. Sometimes it can make a baby irritable or fussy, or the baby may not want to feed.

If your baby has thrush, your doctor will probably prescribe a liquid or gel to be applied to the baby's mouth and tongue. You should also wash the baby's pacifier daily, and clean bottle nipples after each use.

Babies can also have candida infections in the diaper area. Diaper rashes caused by candida tend to linger. The rash is usually present in skin folds and extends outward, with smaller red spots just beyond the edges of the main rash area. Your doctor can help you figure out if your baby has a candida diaper rash. The treatment is antifungal skin cream.

Other Candida Infections

Many women are familiar with vaginal candida symptoms. An overgrowth of natural candida causes itching, burning, and a whitish discharge that may look like cottage cheese. Treatments for vaginal candida infections are available at the drugstore, although you should check with your doctor if you're having symptoms for the first time.

Candida infections can also occur in any skin folds on the body. Common sites are beneath the breasts and in the groin area, especially on overweight people. Check with your doctor if you develop a red, itchy rash that won't go away.

Candida infections in the mouth of an older child or adult, infections that recur often or won't go away, or infections in less common places such as the esophagus (the tube between the mouth and the stomach) can signal a serious underlying problem. People with AIDS, cancer, or other diseases affecting the immune system may have problems with candida infections.

If candida gets into the blood, it can cause very serious illness. However, candida blood infections generally do not happen in normal, healthy people. They occur in people who are already very sick.

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Overview of Candida and Its Tell-Tale Symptoms