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Stubborn Thrush Meets Stubborn Mother

By Marie Zahorick
Romeoville, IL USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 5, September-October 1998, pp. 139-40

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time

By the time my son, James, was born, I thought I was prepared for almost anything. Nine months of advice from well-meaning friends and relatives, as well as extensive reading on my own helped me deal with several obstacles I encountered as I tried to breastfeed. These included flat nipples, newborn jaundice, and nipple confusion. My greatest challenge, however, came from something I had never heard of - thrush, a yeast infection in the breast.

In the first two weeks of his life, I was pumping my milk and feeding James with a syringe and medicine dropper. He had been able to latch on successfully only three or four times, and only after an average of forty-five minutes of coaxing from me, my mother, and two lactation consultants from the hospital. I was even given a nipple shield as a last resort. In addition, I developed milk blisters, white patches on my nipples, and shooting pains that felt like hot needles stabbing into my breasts. My nipples were so sore that even using my breast pump was painful. I didn't attempt to breastfeed James for several days because my nipples and breasts hurt for several hours after a nursing session. In the evenings, I sat in the bathtub and cried because I was in so much pain and I thought nothing could help me. I was also exhausted from getting up several times in the middle of the night to pump, wash the pump parts, and feed James by eye dropper, which was often very frustrating for James, me, and my husband, Don.

In desperation, I called LLLI for help. They gave me the phone number of Colleen, a local Leader. She was very sympathetic and calming when I talked to her on the phone. Luckily, there was a Series Meeting scheduled the very next day.

It was very difficult to go to that first meeting and see all the other babies nursing successfully. James started to cry because he was hungry, but I was embarrassed to get out his bottle and medicine dropper. I looked at my little baby and started to cry because I felt that I was a failure and nobody could help me.

One of the other Leaders in the Group, Janet, reassured me and listened to my numerous problems. She showed me how to cup-feed James to avoid further nipple confusion. She told me I probably had a thrush infection that had grown in the milk ducts, resulting in those stabbing pains. We traced the thrush back to the antibiotics I had been given in the hospital following a fever. These antibiotics killed the beneficial bacteria that would normally keep the yeast organisms in check. Since I was prone to yeast infections anyway, thrush was almost inevitable. Everyone at the meeting was very supportive and commended me for sticking with my attempts to breastfeed. They helped me to see that resorting to pumping my milk in the interim did not mean that I had failed.

Over the next weeks, with Janet's help, I tried several thrush remedies, ranging from an old standby, gentian violet, to new pharmaceuticals. I eliminated yeast, sugar, and dairy products from my diet for a month. I took acidophilus pills from the health food store to help bring the yeast organisms under control. Just as my pain was decreasing, I developed bacterial mastitis. It was a double blow. With a 102 degree fever, I had to take antibiotics. They not only worsened the thrush, but also meant I had to stop taking the medication for thrush because the medicines were incompatible with each other. Within a day, my nipples were covered in the characteristic white patches of thrush. While I was taking the antibiotic, I used gentian violet on my nipples to help keep the thrush from worsening. I applied it to my nipples with a cotton swab. It stained my nipples and clothing a deep purple. My pumped milk was a lovely shade of lavender, which also stained James's mouth. He looked as if he had been eating blueberries!

Once, when I was very discouraged and considering weaning James, I called Karen, another Leader from the Group. I felt embarrassed to bring up the subject of weaning, so I told her I was calling to see if the meeting was still the next day. She told me it was and asked how I was doing. We talked for almost an hour and she said, "Whatever you decide to do, I will support you totally." I already felt better after talking to her and decided to keep breastfeeding James. I finally was able to finish my course of medication for thrush which eliminated a good deal of the pain. After several weeks of careful hygiene and diet, the thrush overgrowth cleared up. I began breastfeeding James more often and cutting back on pumping milk. Finally, after two long months, I was breastfeeding James without any artificial devices!

I would have weaned James without all the support from my husband, Don, wonderful family members, and my friends from La Leche League. Karen told me something that really struck a chord with me. She said, "Just think of how your experiences might help another mother some day because you've been there too."

I tried to remember that statement whenever I was discouraged. I was sticking with it not only for my baby, but for myself, and maybe even for other women who might benefit from hearing about my experience. Looking back at those first two months of James's life, I am very proud of myself for my tenacity in continuing breastfeeding. As my family will tell you, I am not usually so stubborn, but I am so glad I was. James is now eighteen months old and is still nursing. He is one of the healthiest kids around. Breastfeeding has made both of us stronger, and I am grateful to LLL and everyone who helped us.

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