Most women have had an occasional bout of thrush — a yeast infection caused by candida that results in vaginal itchiness. But some unlucky ones end up with an overgrowth of candida throughout the gut that requires a major change in diet for six months to a year.

What is candida?

Candida albicans is a form of fungus or yeast that is found naturally in and on many parts of the healthy body, especially in the digestive tract. Usually, levels of candida are controlled by microbes or other substances which co-exist in the digestive tract. During pregnancy, hormone changes and a slightly weakened immune system contribute to women getting yeast infections more often. A candida infection is not dangerous to the baby but can be very uncomfortable at a time when the pregnancy itself may be causing discomfort. It is important to use natural remedies to treat yeast infections since prescription and over-the-counter anti-fungal medications can affect your liver and the health of your baby. Also, if you suffer from recurring vaginal yeast infections and have tried using over-the-counter anti-fungals with no success, it means you are resistant to them and need to follow a programme to completely desensitise your system.

During lactation, it is also important to treat yourself and your baby using safe, natural remedies. This yeast overgrowth can be on your nipples and in your milk ducts, as well as in your baby’s mouth and intestinal tract. It causes sore nipples and can cause intra-ductal pain in your breasts (burning, shooting pain during and after feeds). If your baby has a white tongue, this can be an early sign of oral yeast (thrush). If not treated, it can progress to patches of white on the tongue and cheeks. If you find yourself getting regular bouts of thrush after the birth or have some of the symptoms described below it may be time to investigate the cause.

What are the symptoms?

Systemic candida is known to release over 79 different types of toxins into the system. It’s characterised by people saying they “feel sick all over”. Fatigue,
allergies, immune system malfunction, depression, chemical sensitivity and digestive disturbances are just some of the symptoms people with candida may experience. Many people have candida overgrowth or candidiasis without knowing it.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Vaginal symptoms: Itching, burning, thick cottage cheese-like discharge, redness, and discomfort during sex.
  • Fatigue and lethargy.
  • Recurring yeast infections such as athletes foot and fungal nail infections.
  • Recurring urinary tract infections, allergies, sinus problems, asthma and chronic chest congestion.
  • Abdominal bloating, gas, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea or mucus in the stool.
  • Eye fatigue and recurring inflammation of the eye.
  • Depression, anxiety, mood swings, panic attacks, poor concentration, memory loss or headaches.
  • Muscle weakness and joint pain or swelling and fever.
  • Dry mouth and tongue or cracked tongue, swollen face.
  • Itchy skin, especially of the anus and other damp places of the body.
  • Sugar and carbohydrate cravings.

What causes an overgrowth?

A common cause is antibiotic use and overuse. Along with the harmful bacteria antibiotics kill, they also kill off the “friendly” micro-organisms or probiotic flora in the intestines, vagina and elsewhere. These friendly bacteria strains are responsible for controlling candida. The other common cause is diet. Yeast loves sugar of any kind and the foods that break down into sugar. To get rid of the underlying causes of yeast infections, you must focus on your diet, have a healthy intestinal tract, strong immune system and take probiotics and a natural antifungal supplement. Some women have to do this indefinitely to keep yeast starved.

Other causes are:

  • Alcohol
  • A diet high in refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white pasta and processed foods
  • Contraception pills
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormonal imbalance 
  • Intestinal parasites and worms
  • Compromised immune function

Treatment during pregnancy

Diet is extremely important when dealing with systemic candida and you may have to keep up these dietary changes for six months to a year. A high intake of sugar (table sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, candy, soft drinks, fruit [except cranberries and lemons]), milk and other dietary products, foods containing yeast such as flour products appear to promote the growth of candida.

You need to cut out sugar which is the chief food source of candida albicans. Limiting refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cereal, foods made with flour) is also a good idea since they also feed yeast. Also look at restricting or eliminating milk. The high lactose content promotes the overgrowth of candida and milk is one the most frequent food allergens. People with chronic candidiasis should avoid foods with a high content of yeast or mould, including alcoholic drinks, cheese, dried fruits and peanuts. Even when you are not actively dealing with candida overgrowth, it is important, especially when pregnant, to regularly supplement your diet with the “friendly” bacteria, or probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidus for protection. For many the thought of more diet restrictions during pregnancy just doesn’t seem fair! But it’s not just pregnant women who suffer. Anyone with an overgrowth of candida albicans must avoid sugar.

I am the first one to say that anything in moderation is the key to a balanced life but when it comes to candida this is simply not the case. There are other natural therapy treatments that you can try. At Quintessence I produce Quintessence Candiease Drops, which are a safe anti-fungal supplement to use during pregnancy and lactation. Candiease will kill off unwanted bacteria along with promoting growth of good bacteria. A vaginal anti-fungal cream is a good idea as well as oral probiotics.

Natasha Berman-Carter is a naturopath, medical herbalist and managing director of QBaby ( Natasha is mum of two boys, Eli and Asher.

This article first appeared in OhBaby.