Existence of breast thrush confirmed

New research demonstrates that breast and nipple pain experienced by women during breastfeeding may be associated with the presence of ‘breast thrush’, or infection by the Candida fungus.

Autism Lead researcher Associate Professor Lisa Amir, from Mother and Child Health Research at La Trobe University, says that the results of the research will make it easier for healthcare professionals to diagnose the presence of breast thrush and thus to treat women who are experiencing nipple pain.

‘Some women experience deep, radiating breast pain, along with burning nipple pain during breastfeeding,’ says Dr Amir. ‘However, there has been some controversy about this condition.’

‘One of my patients was told by her GP that some women think they have thrush in their breast, but that it’s “all in their head”,’ says Dr Amir. ‘Some clinicians diagnose breast thrush and treat accordingly, while others doubt the relationship between the presence of fungal organisms and the pain experienced.’

‘This confusion means that the approach of healthcare professionals to the condition is not consistent or effective,’ says Dr Amir. ‘Our research thus aimed to find out whether the condition of nipple and breast thrush actually exists.’

The NHMRC-funded project followed 360 women from pregnancy to eight weeks after they gave birth. It aimed to establish whether or not there was an association between the presence of Candida species of fungus, or ‘breast thrush’, and the experience of breast pain and associated nipple pain in breastfeeding women.

‘We found that women with burning nipple pain associated with breast pain are more likely to have Candida species than other women. This shows that Candida plays a role in nipple and breast pain in breastfeeding women, and thus demonstrates that breast thrush does exist.’

Kate Mortensen, Director of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) Lactation Resource Centre, says that the ABA welcomes this vitally important research.

‘Nipple and breast pain is the major reason why mothers access the ABA helpline, and many mothers give up breastfeeding because of nipple and breast pain that is not correctly treated,’ says Ms Mortensen.

‘The serious effects of untreated breast and nipple pain on the wellbeing of mothers – and ultimately babies if they are prematurely weaned – cannot be underestimated,’ says Ms Mortensen.

‘With the publication of this research we hope that doctors will be able to better diagnose nipple and breast pain and prevent premature weaning.’

Research was conducted through sampling for the presence of Candida species and for the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria was found to be present in women both with and without breast pain, with no correlation, while there was a high association between pain and the presence of Candida.

The study was based at Mother and Child Health Research at La Trobe University. MCHR is a multidisciplinary public health research centre with a strong program of research addressing issues of major public health importance for mothers, infants and families.

The research is available online through the open access journal BMJ Open.

Dr Amir will be speaking about this issue at the ABA seminars for health professionals to be held in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth this week. The seminars are also available online. For more information go to the ABA seminars website.

Mothers experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding can contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline on 1800 686 268.



Associate Professor Lisa Amir
Mother and Child Health Research
M 0408 106 910 | E l.amir@latrobe.edu.au

Suzi Macbeth
Communications Officer
T +61 3 9479 5353 | E s.macbeth@latrobe.edu.au