It's Not Yeast: Retrospective Cohort Study of Lactating Women with Persistent Nipple and Breast Pain

Breastfeed Med. 2020 Dec 10. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2020.0160. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Health care providers treating lactating women for nipple and breast pain often attribute symptoms to Candida albicans infection. However, multiple other conditions may present with pain, erythema, and pruritis. We explored the experience of a breastfeeding medicine practice that received referrals for patients failing antifungal therapy and who desired further evaluation for alternative diagnoses. Materials and Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of breastfeeding women referred for evaluation of "yeast" to a breast surgery/breastfeeding medicine practice from July 2016 to August 2019. Results: Twenty-five women met inclusion criteria. Median age was 33 (range 24-43) and median months postpartum was 4 (range 0.5-18). All 25 women reported minimal to no improvement on oral and/or topical antifungal therapy. In addition to history and examination, milk culture was obtained in four women, punch biopsy in one, and core needle biopsy in one. No woman was confirmed to have a diagnosis of Candida. Diagnoses were changed to the following: subacute mastitis/mammary dysbiosis (n = 8), nipple bleb (n = 6), dermatitis (n = 6), vasospasm (n = 2), milk crust (n = 1), hyperlactation (n = 1), and postpartum depression (n = 1). Treatment included discontinuation of antifungal medication, as well as the following per individual diagnoses: antibiotics and probiotics; 0.1% triamcinolone cream; heat therapy; discontinuation of exclusive pumping; and antidepressant medication and counseling referral. All women experienced resolution of symptoms following revision of diagnosis and change in management (range 2-42 days). Conclusion: While persistent nipple and breast pain in breastfeeding is often attributed to Candida, this cohort demonstrates that providers should consider multiple other conditions in their differential diagnosis. Accurate, timely diagnosis is crucial, as pain is a risk factor for premature cessation of breastfeeding. Symptomatic resolution occurs on appropriate therapy.

Keywords: Candida; breast pain; nipple pain; thrush; yeast.