Saline solution as treatment for thrush?

I am a breastfeeding counsellor and have seen many cases of thrush. One of the nurses I work with tells the clients to rinse their nipples with a saline solution. Have you heard if this has any benefits to it? It seems that she recommends this even when you can see the thrush and doesn't recommend seeing a doctor for treatment. I would love to know what you think.


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Saline soaks can be wonderfully healing for sore nipples. If sore nipples are properly (and promptly) dealt with, it is very likely that there will be less chance of developing thrush. Abraded tissue provides a wonderful entry point for a fungal infection to take hold.

Thrush is a fungal infection that thrives in the warm, moist areas of a mother's nipples and a baby's mouth and/or bottom. Though thrush is not generally a serious condition in the healthy infant or mom, it is remarkably persistent and can lead to premature weaning.

Once thrush has taken hold, it is unlikely that saline rinses or soaks would be effective in the treatment of this condition. When thrush is present, it is necessary to treat both mom and baby with an antifungal, simultaneously, for a period of at least 2 weeks - even if one remains without symptoms. (Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Riordan and Auerbach, 1993)

If a nursing mother wants to use a normal saline solution rinse/soak, she may find it easiest to purchase sterile saline solution. Make sure one without preservatives is chosen. Or she can make her own solution by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of salt with one cup (8 oz.) of water.

Following a feed, nipples can be soaked in normal saline solution for 10 minutes. Gently pat nipples dry with a soft cloth and apply a pea sized amount of Lansinoh to each nipple and areola. (This type of purified lanolin does not need to be rinsed off prior to the next feed.)

Proper diagnosis is essential if thrush is suspected. Eczema (atopic dermatitis) can also present similarly to thrush. The nursing mom's nipple and/or areola may be red in color with burning,scaling, oozing and crusting. This condition is often quite painful. Saline rinses may be very uncomfortable for a mom with this condition.

It is important for moms with suspected thrush to be referred to a breastfeeding-friendly dermatologist, OB/Gyn or midwife, who will work in conjunction with her lactation consultant to insure proper treatment. Best wishes in your work with nursing moms!


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