Everybody has bacteria and yeast in their body at levels that counterbalance each other. A “yeast infection”, actually refers to an overgrowth of yeast — your good bacteria can’t keep the balance; and a strain of opportunistic yeast called candida albicans has invaded. Regardless of what it is called, yeast on your nipples can be painful. The pain may have come on suddenly. Your nipples may be red and shiny and you have itchy or stinging pain both when nursing and in between feedings. Sometimes the pain seems to shoot back into your breast.
The only way to diagnose either a yeast or bacterial infection with certainty is by taking a culture to be analyzed by a lab. This is rarely done because of cost, time and access to resources.
So we look for patterns that frequently lead to yeast overgrowth:
•recent antibiotic use, perhaps even during labor and postpartum. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, not just the bad bacteria, leaving your body out of balance yeast-wise.
•someone else in the family has yeast: this could be athlete’s foot, jock itch, or a vaginal yeast infection. Women who have a tendency in non-pregnant life to have vaginal yeast infections may be more prone to developing yeast on their nipples. Yeast in baby’s mouth is called thrush and baby can develop a yeast diaper rash, too. Don’t overlook pets — especially long-haired, long-eared dogs!
•nipple pain that has no other obvious source such as latch problems or nipple damage.
Next month: What to do when you think you have yeast.