by Jack Newman
We call our nipple ointment "all purpose" since it contains ingredients that help deal with multiple causes or aggravating factors of sore nipples. "Good medicine" calls for the single "right" treatment for the "right" problem, true enough, but mothers with sore nipples don't have time to try out different treatments that may or may not work, so we have combined various treatments in one ointment.
Of course, preventing sore nipples in the first place would be the best treatment and often adjusting how the baby takes the breast can do more than anything to decrease and eliminate the mother’s nipple soreness (See information sheets When Latching, Sore Nipples as well as the video clips at the website nbci.ca.
1. Mupirocin 2% ointment: Mupirocin (Bactroban™ is the trade name) is an antibiotic that is effective against many bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus aureus including MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Staphylococcus aureus is commonly found growing in abrasions or cracks in the nipples and probably makes worse whatever the initial cause of sore nipples is.
Interestingly, mupirocin apparently has some effect against Candida albicans (commonly, but inaccurately called “thrush” or “yeast”). Treatment of sore nipples with an antibiotic alone sometimes seems to work, but we feel that the antibiotic works best in combination with the other ingredients discussed below.
Although mupirocin is absorbed when taken by mouth, it is so quickly metabolized in the body that it is destroyed before blood levels can be measured. Moreover most of it gets stuck to the skin so that very little is taken in by the baby. Thus it is safe for the baby to swallow if indeed he gets any.
2. Betamethasone 0.1% ointment: Betamethasone is a corticosteroid, which like all corticosteroids, decreases inflammation. A large part of the pain mothers experience when they have sore nipples is due to inflammation. The redness of the nipples and areolas is another sign of inflammation.
By decreasing the inflammation, the APNO also decreases the pain the mother feels. Most of the betamethasone in the ointment is absorbed into the skin by the mother, so that the baby takes in very little.
3. Miconazole powder to a final concentration of 2%: Miconazole is an antifungal agent. It is very effective against Candida albicans. We feel the concentration of 2% miconazole is a good one, but because the pharmacist adds a powder to the above two ingredients, s/he can change the concentration of miconazole so that it can be increased to 3% or even 4% or decreased to less than 2%. We feel 2% is the best concentration for most situations.
Fluconazole powder to 2% may be substituted for miconazole and so can clotrimazole powder to 2%, but we believe that clotrimazole (Canesten) irritates more than the other drugs in the same family.
Miconazole cream or gel cannot be substituted for miconazole powder as the compound will usually separate. If you live in a place where miconazole or any of the above mentioned drugs (fluconazole, clotrimazole) are not easily available as powders to be mixed into the APNO, it is probably better to use only the mupirocin and betamethasone ointments mixed together than add a cream or gel or nystatin ointment for example.
By using a powder, the concentration of the other two ingredients is not as decreased as they would be if another ointment were used for the anti-fungal agent (for example, nystatin ointment). Thus, in the above preparation the concentration of the betamethasone become 0.05% (due to combination with the mupirocin) and the mupirocin concentration is decreased to 1%. Note that nystatin ointment, which we used to use and which decreases the concentration of the other ingredients, is far inferior to miconazole and also tastes bad.
I write the prescription this way:
Total: about 30 grams combined
Apply sparingly after each feeding. Do not wash or wipe off