Mastitis is one douchebag you certainly dont want to encounter on your breastfeeding journey. Like ever. She’s a cruel little wench that will pretty much have you ugly-crying up into the heavens for mercy…or possiby for a swift death. Whichever comes first.
In fact, it has often been the reason why many mothers out there call it quits completely on breastfeeding, despite how much they really wanted to. And, I for one, can tell you I DON’T blame them. Not one bit. If anything, I understand that decision all too well. However, I am also here to tell you, that mastitis does not mean you have to give up on your breastfeeding goals. As this has often been the myth sold to many mothers. I was faced with the same fork in my road. And I can confidently tell you that there is, in fact, breastfeeding life after mastitis! Promise!
And trust me, that’s really something to say, since its coming from someone(me) who pretty much felt like all of Hades descended upon her and make their home in my boobies.
If you’ve been following along in my all my breastfeeding threads on this blog (and if you haven’t, may I suggest you do check them out over here.Its not all of it, so feel free to search for more.), you’d have picked up that I’ve generally had rough rides with breastfeeding both my kids so far. I’ve had all sorts of issues and hurdles, but by the grace of God, Ive managed to refocus my sights, and along with some serious support, got back on track. You would have also picked up on how often Ive made reference to how particularly hairy my breastfeeding journey was with my second child, Parker-Grace. There was alot that went down in that time that is a pretty stark reminder to me of what a crazy existence motherhood can be.And alot of that crazy stemmed from my mastitis.
To be honest, there was nothing like it. And I’m not just talking about it in the context of breastfeeding, alone, I’m talking about in life in general. Mastitis, single handedly, was the most excruciatingly painful trauma I’ve ever experienced. Ever! And I can tell you now, I’ve had some serious doozies in this here lifetime of mine. Not even the road accident I had which hospitalized me came close. Not even any of the crazy “almost broke my neck” playground accidents Ive been through. Gosh, darn it, not even child birth – which by the way, I actually do NOT find painful, and you can too! Drug-free– I promise. But more on that in another post, another time. Not even going toe-to-toe in the ring with an up and coming amateur male kick-boxer who had chip on his shoulder about women in martial arts, and then subsequently getting my lights knocked out by him…Geez, there are so many not-evens out there, guys. They just dont compare. The point being that there was honestly nothing that rocked my pain thresholds quite like mastitis did.
It all started with….well, to be honest Im not sure where it all started. Because we had a great start to begin with: beautiful peaceful birth, followed by easy breastfeeding and such a textbook baba, who drank sweetly, then fell asleep 45 min later. I could put her down and she slept like a champ- OMG. Nothing like her sissy. I could work with plastic packets right by her head, have loud animated conversations with her sleeping nicely in her space, no problem – once more, nothing like her sissy was. But one by one that perfect picture started cracking and peeling away. For more context and to understand just how rocky it became, I suggest you read this post here.
But perhaps that lantent rocky start did lend itself to my body slightly tensing up. And one’s boobs respond to this kind of stress, no matter how subtle you think it is, your boobs know. They just know. So, with all the tiny stress bombs we had along the way with Parker-Grace, I found my letdown reflex was often missing, despite how full and hard my breasts were, the milk just wouldn’t come. Making me even more stressed out, as I really didn’t want to go down the engorgement path…and all that stressing lead to? You guessed it, and even more uptight boobs that just didn’t want to release. Err-mah—gershhh…The vicious cycle I was in. I don’t why I didn’t just whip up some jungle juice to help me out with my relaxation techniques, but I suppose there WERE reasons that I didn’t. right or wrong. (read that here)
To top it off, baba’s latch was really going south, and all my previous tricks to get her to latch properly no longer worked. It looked like she and I were going to have to figure out our own way of doing things, and finding our own new tips and tricks, cause the one’s I learnt from Morgy were no longer cutting it.Consequently my nipples were literally starting to hang by their threads, desperately clinging onto the last bits of my body. (Graphic enough for you?)
Needless to say, it honestly started to become quite traumatic for me, where I seriously started to dread every single feeding time. My shredded nipples looked as if I had endured some kind of torture. No longer did I see feeding time as the start of a fresh clean slate with baby as I did with Morgy. No, this time it was one of pure anxiety and dread. The dread of her actually removing my nipple clean off this time. Seriously. Often times in removing her from the breast because of incorrect latching, as I delatched her with the same great caution of a bomb defuser, only faster, (you know, as I released the vacuum-packed suction she had on me) blood would just spray across my pyjamas and bed linen. Leaving a look of horror on hubby’s face. I tried to not look at him in those times, because I was already trying to battle my own natural psychological reaction that goes on in anyone’s head when their own blood is being spilled for naught. Nevermind still have his look of shock and despair driving it home further.
I oddly had such fear and tenseness for this tiny little defenseless being of mine, that I oh so loved and was so dependant on me – and yet here I was, quivering in my boots for that little mouth of her’s desperately searching for my nipple and starting to lose patience for it. And me desperately trying to calm myself down.Remembering to breathe. Praying we get the latch right this time. You know, ’cause I really do prefer my nipples attached to me and all.
But as much as I tried to woo-sahhh my way through it, it really was starting to wear on me at that time; “Why cant I get this latch right this time?! We were doing so well!And why the fc&*% wont my milk come out like it did before?” ( And then I was cursing myself for cursing the superpowered flow of my milk I usually had..Urghhh, don’t know what you’ve got till its gone, they say. Grass is always greener..and other such sayings flooded my head.)
Try as I may, that milk somehow just didnt want to release, lest she drank on me. I genuinely couldnt believe I struggled to pump this time. I mean, pumping was the one thing that I didnt have a problem with before. I could easily pump a 1/2 to almost a litre in 10 minutes or so. And here I was struggling just to get more than 10mls to trickle out.urrggghh! The frustration didnt help, and may I suspect may have just worsened the state of affairs.(I kind of knew that at the time, but somehow I couldnt shake it off)
I did the works- hot showers, kneeling over to pump, kneeling over with breasts in basin of hot water, warm compresses. You name it! If it was in google or suggested to me, I tried it! But nothing doing. The only way I was getting the milk out was with baby suckling on me. However, she didnt enjoy the strong letdown, so when the letdown came, she called it quits and went back to sleep, leaving me with milk streaming out for a few seconds but never actually emptying my breasts. So with my shredded nipples, and increasingly engorged breasts, it was making a very fertile ground for mastitis.
It was basically on day 6 that I started feeling really rubbish. I felt cold, jittery, couldn’t stop shaking and in pure pain. Pretty much close to death. Moving my body felt like it took every ounce of energy I had, and my head pounded like a jackhammer. I remember curling into my bed and covering myself with every blanket and pillow I owned, moaning to my hubby, is it very cold, or it just me? He said no, but I saw the dismissal on his face. The one that was now just tired of all my complaining. The one that basically said, enough already, just suck it up. Never said it, but it was loud and clear to me. Not his usual reaction, mind you. But I saw it loud and clear across his face and body language. I took it as my sign to do just that.
I swallowed every bit of complaint I wanted to blurt out. I buried myself in self-pity, self-patronization… “why aren’t you woman enough! Get yourself together. Why are you so weak. ”
But then, as morning rolled around..with all these self battering thoughts still swirling in my head, right then in the midst of it all. I stopped. I took inventory of my thoughts. And then took an honest look at it. Was I really a pool of self pity? Was I really a weak person on a normal given day? Is that who I am? And I knew the answer very clearly. I was not. I was strong, and more than that, I was a woman who knows what she needed. And me complaining was just me reaching out to someone for help. So that’s where I ended my self pity party and called my hubby, who was getting ready for work.
I strung together all my brain cells I still had going for me to put my thoughts together, and asked Mike to not go to work that day. I explained that this was the situation, and that Im pretty sure I have mastitis. And that I need immediate attention. And that I would need him to help take me there, as I was too weak to drive with baby and that I didn’t know how I was going to deal with. I needed him for support. He immediately agreed to it, and made arrangements with his work, then off we went to the breastfeeding clinic.
As always, the nurses took me seriously and gave me immediate attention. The physio therapist next door was fortunately available and took me in immediately, while Mikey took care of Parker-Grace. Amazingly she stayed sweetly in his arms all that time. Physio therapist confirmed, I indeed had mastitis. But they were going to help me.
I wasn’t out of the woods just yet, but It felt as if could now just collapse and be taken care of, that I no longer had to chin-up and just take it. Finally someone coud confirm why I felt so poorly and to confirm what I had susptected, and mostly to now fix me!
I remember feeling my body somewhat relaxing as I lay there and spoke Ilsa, the physio therapist. I had no clue what was in store for me, I knew I had to move through it, no matter what it was, so that I couldget better and get back to taking care of my newborn and toddler.
We chatted quite nicely actually, Ilsa has a gift for distracting you. We were even laughing, and I could crack some jokes. We discussed my options and what the plan of action would be. I was hoping not to go antibiotics, as that would affect breastfeeding, but I wasnt sure HOW’D get away with that, as every single medical article I had read about masititis called for antibiotics. Mind you, none of those articles were dated of that year. Ilsa was fortunately of the same opinion as I, and explained to me that antibiotics doesn’t have to be your only or first choice in treating mastitis. This rang especially well with me, since Im not one to pop a pill for any old thing, and Ilsa also knew I wanted to carry on breastfeeding my baby. We decided on ultrasound therapy and on we went with our chittychatty.
But then we had to get started on ultrasound therapy. And I don’t know why, but I did; I asked her if this was going to be painful…Honestly, that really was such a weird question or me to ask, because mostly Im ok with pain ( I have my three older brothers to thank for this high pain threshhold – no cry babies were allowed to play them them, yo!)
But it wasn’t her answer that made me gulp, though. It was her hesitation before she answered, “only a little”. With that kind of answer, I just knew this was going to have to hold onto my knickers and hope I dont crap in them.
I tried to relax into this, but that didn’t help much. The moment she started, the pain of it took my breath away, and Im pretty sure my eyes widened to the size of saucers. I wasn’t sure what was more shocking, the pain…or my brain’s inability to fathom the pain. Eventually, when my breath returned, I remember letting out a scream. I tried to control myself, I tried to breathe through it all, but the pain was just too intense that it sent my body into complete panic mode. In fact, I remember fighting the urge to grab Ilsa and punch her off me – my body was just in complete fight mode!
At one point, when I went quiet, Im almost pretty sure I was out-of-body just to escape the pain and stop the crying.
I remember so well trying to reason it out with myself, whats happening and why I needed to let it happen. But I was crying out loud and I couldnt stop myself. Eventually I took to actually physically muffling out my own cries, in hopes of quietening myself down. All the while, Ilsa did her best to gently talk me through it.
Eventually, the milk started moving, and the pain became less intense. At one point, I remember looking down and seeing the puss coming out of breasts. They had gotten so infected, I had no idea. All that time, I was thinking I was just being a woes about things, instead I was actually in need of some medical attention.
I took a breather in between breasts, and even with tears rolling down my tears I still joked how movies should make less fuss about the pain of childbirth and focus more on the drama and pain of mastitis! I remember thinking, “screw this!! Screw this whole damn breastfeeding thing. I know Im doing it purely to benefit my child, but all of this?! Surely this shouldnt be part of the deal?!” But the thing is, I had to go through this in anycase if I wanted to fix the problem at hand. And once the problem was fixed, then we could resume breastfeeding again. So what would be the point of giving up now, right here on this therapy table. So refocussed and resolved to holding off any decisions post this little storm I was going through. Granted, I didnt have it as bad as some women though. The next breast wasnt as bad as the first, however, it still managed to squeeze a howler out me for old times sake.
After the therapy, I felt like I had been through the washer. Almost surreal. I also remember hearing the clinic sisters speak to me,as if they were speaking to me through a long echoing tunnel. Like I was still out-of-bodying, trying to find my way back.
Mike met me at the door, with complete worry and helplessness across his face, his eyes searching mine, his shoulders bunched up even while holding a sleepy Parker. (the same kid who normally refuses to be by anyone but me,but happily caught a nap in dad’s arms when I went to go volunteer for some good ol’ torture- Thanks, kid.)
Shame I felt so bad for Mike. He was taken so off guard by my reaction to the treatment behind closed doors. There he was holding baby, only to hear me cry out in pain. Apparently, he wasnt sure what to do: He doesnt know me to cry like that, and was torn between shushing baby in his arms, or kicking down the door to come “save me” from whatever was going in there.
I mechanically went through all my actions, with the drive home being particularly quiet. Mike constantly was checking on me in the rearview mirror. I tried to process it all – in fact, I didnt share everything here with you. But there was alot to process. It was only once I got home, and tried to keep up the positive momentum of it all. Parker was still of good habits where could fall asleep and remain asleep when I put her down, so I tried to pump. And as I sat their trying to put the morning’s trauma behind me, listening to the rhythmic actions of my pump, watching my wounded nipples move back and forth…with not a trickle of milk in sight.. I tried to remain positive, tried to focus on the “yes I can” attitude, to keep it together. But the day’s events all just plunged straight through that wall of positivety I tried to build. And then like a mad woman, I kept pumping. If I keep pumping it happen right? Right? RIGHT!
And then the tears started flowing, and wouldnt stop, they flowed like I wished my milk would’ve. Eventually when my mom came over, walked into the room nd found me slumped over my pump… In just one big heap of self-sorriness,defeat and tears. I looked up at her, and just about muttered to her about my milk being dried up.
After all of that, after all the strong woman stuff of the morning, this is how I got my record scratched on that rainbows and unicorns soundtrack – my milk dried up. And to top it all off, like the middle-finger-cherry-on-top, I had to go back for YET ANOTHER session of ultrasound therapy! urrgghh..I had to do it ALL OVER again. This time, knowing full well how bad it can get, and the having to voluntarily get into the car and go back for more. What may have been worse was that I knew I couldnt NOT go, lest I wanted to start this nightmare all over again. I knew I had little choice, and still held onto my breastfeeding goals…even though, at that point, they were but mere threads.
The next day was quite a ride as well, granted not half as bad as the previous. And I walked out there with far more hop and skip in my walk,but I knew I still had to face the mountain that was my milk supply issue. Or more accurately, the lack thereof.
Fortunately, I had managed to pump some extra milk in the third and fourth day. It wasnt much, but I spent my days cup feeding, and syringe-feeding Parker with whatever I had stored up. Eventually I knew there was a point that I’d have to crack open the formula. And however much I wanted to keep her virgin gut as…well, as virgin as possible, I was so very grateful for formula, even if it was just for top ups on feeds. (25 to 50 mls in a day)
So now with the masitis nightmare out of the way, and no pain and dread to cloud my decisions, I knew I still wanted to breastfeed my baby. And therefore I knew I had to fix up her latching. The key to alot of the drama we went through. So I pulled up my big girl panties, as I pulled out my breastfeeding directory and got a calling and emailing.
In no time was the network a buzz,and these incredible woman made themselves available to me…to help me, a stranger. And if they couldnt help me, they helped me find someone who could. They were just amazing…no less amazing than they normally are.
I called up a lovely lady from Le Leche League. The same lady who who gave me a gem of advice with my first baby. Now, whilst I had been warned by others that the ladies of LLL can be a bit breastfeeding nazi-ish, I had never experienced that. Until, that is, this time when I spoke to her on the phone about my milk. So dont get me wrong, she is still lovely, but I honestly didnt need the trip down Mom-Guilt lane about the formula that I gave. Especially in the state that I was in. So I pulled on my thicker skin, and stuck it out, I knew she meant well, as was only trying to help me get back on track. I did my best to keep my emotions in check. I understood and appreciated the lesson being taught- it truly was yet another gem that became a game changer – but could’ve done without the guilt trip. However, all that lip biting and skin-thickening paid off, she gave me TWO gems that really changed it up for me.
I thanked her and immediately went to implement that which she shared with me: Tossed the formula and jumped into bed to skin to skin my baba. Skin to skin like I’ve never skin-to-skinned before. I had to go full laid-back mothering, even though it often left me with dead legs and bum cheeks.
In no time, we saw my milk supply return. In fact, on that very evening we had such a huge difference.Each day was better than the previous. I also implemented other tactics like here and here after four days of straight skin-to-skin. I no longer had to contend with stress and heartbreak of supply issues, we were back in business, baby! (I shall share with you my full regime soon!Watch this space.)
But Parker and I were stil struggling with the latch, and I knew if I wanted to avoid returning down the path of mastitis and supply issues, I needed to get this latch sorted, So I called in Jean Ridler, for a house-call.
She stepped into our home, calm as ever, met me upstairs in our bedroom and gently put it all on me. And just when I thought I knew all there was know about breastfeeding and how-to’s, this woman opened up a whole new world for me. The things she shared with me and showed me truly made the world of a difference. She patiently sat with me while Parker fed, watched my tehnique and gently encouraged me when I needed it. The magic that that woman spun in my home that day remains unforgettable to me. The things she taught me that day have also remained with me, and hope to share with you too, very soon.
And just like that Parker and I were in the clear. We were back down that rainbows-and-unicorn-path, and life just couldnt be sweeter. All thanks to the support and guidance of two incredible women, and rock and pillar: my hubby and my mom.
Now, my story was not meant to scare you or put you off ( geez, i certainly hope not!), but rather to demonstrate that there is always a flame of hope, no matter how dark or stark your situation is. There is always hope and help if you want to fulfill your breastfeeding goals with your children. That there are always options. That medication doesnt have to be your only option. That giving up breastfeeding doesnt have to happen unless you so choose to. And that no matter your choices, be strong in them. Be informed about them. No one should judge you for your choices – these are your choices to make. And being informed certainly helps your confidence when those ignorant few do try and put the myths on you.
Ok, so we’ve established that Masitisis is quite a meany and we want to avoid it, but what exactly is this perilous Mastitis?
Mastitis refers to any inflammation of the breast, that can be caused by obstruction, bacterial infection and/or allergy. It comes abruptly and usually affects only one breast.(Source: see here).
What are the symptoms:
• Early symptoms of mastitis can make you feel as if you are getting the flu and typically you may begin to get shivers and aches.
• There are similar symptoms to plugged ducts, however, the heat, swelling and pain is normally far more intense.
• There are also usually red streaks extending outward from the infected areas- often hard to spot by the mother herself (i couldnt notice it, but others did)
• Some mothers who do not have any early signs of a blocked duct get mastitis ‘out of the blue’.
• The skin may be shiny and there may be red streaks. You will feel ill. It is common for the ill feeling to come on very quickly.
• Intense pain in one or both breasts – usually only one though.
• Flu-like symptoms, including a fever 38.4 degrees C or higher
If you notice any of these symptoms, or if you have a cracked nipple that appears infected, see puss or blood in your milk, or detect red streaks on your breast, get yourself to a Lactation Specialist. Or at the very least call your gynae. Now, whilst this may sound like heartless advice, honestly the best thing you can do to help mastitis not get worse, is to continue breastfeeding. And if latch is part of the problem,as mine was, obviously getting latches fixed is vital. Call in the professionals for this, you wont be sorry and you certainly cant put a price tag on that. Try to keep pumping, if you can.
How to treat it:
Aside from ensuring that the milk is flowing and not filling up in your breasts, there are a few other things you can do to help treat it.
Thing is, you’ve got to move fast. There is not time to waste with this little monster. Every hour, every minute counts.
If you suspect you may be developing it, or are on the brink of developing, whip up this home remedy for yourself:
Take 3-5g of each and dissolve in glass of water. Sip throughout the day.
I knew I was there, right on the brink..but I couldn’t get these ingredients in time – I so wish someone could start a 24/7 delivery service for these kinds of ingredients. In fact, for ANYthing that a newborn mom may need, we need a company out there that can stock AND deliver these suckers at a moments notice. Any entrepenuers out there reading this?? Hope so! I’d totally make use of your services in a flash!
– First and foremostly, do NOT decrease or stop nursing, this will compound your problem.As in you may develop an abscess!
– Bed rest is key
– Up your fluid intake
– Use a warm compresses on the breast
– Basin soak – fill a basin up and “dangle” breasts in them while massaging towards the nipple. Epsom salts added to the water also apparently makes the world of difference. (I found this out only after the fact!DOH!)
– Take hot showers and ensure that the spray is on your breasts.
But when all has been tried and your still in pain, be sure to get yourself to professional help immediately. And if you had your heart set on breastfeeding as long as possible then I suggest getting yourself to a lactational specialist who’d be able to support you both medically and from the perspective of breastfeeding as well.
– And once more, I must stress, Mastitis does not have to be the end of your breastfeeding journey if you so choose. The advances they’ve made in the lactation field within these recent years provide woman with far more choice and knowledge than it did for women in earlier years.
– So dont forget, anti-biotics is not your only option either.
-However, some cases of masititis are so severe that often anti-biotics are the only way to go. Besides, popping that pill is waaaay better than developing an abscess, in my humble opinion!
Because it’s a helluva lot easier and far less painfull, to prevent it that it is to treat it.
1. Empty your boobs!
Feed or express as often as you can, make sure your breasts are not filling up. Filling up, leads to engorgement, which set the scenes for mastitis perfectly. Just one wrong move, and its going down,
2. Get your latch right- I know, I know, easier said than done, right? But latch issues often mean nipple lacerations or worse, which now just make you even more susceptible to any bugs that are just waiting to infect your breasts. Once latch is sorted, no more lacerations.
3. Treat the nipples: So treat any lacerations with care- rubbing in breastmilk after every feed or more often does wonders, as your milk is loaded with anti inflams and anti bacterial goodness! Yip, its totally magical.
4. Use that mixture I refered to above. It was prescribed to me by one of my midwives, and trust me, they know what thye’re talking about!
5. Take hot showers and ensure that the spray is on your breasts.
Despite it all, all the despair and heartbreaks, I am so glad I kept at it. (and grateful for my hubby’s unding support) So if this is your choice too, I hope this post helps you somewhat! HOwever, I sincerely hope you never need to ever use these bit of advice that Ive garnered from my experience. So please note, Im no medical professional, Im purely sharing all the knowledge I’ve researched and received from the professionals themselves. All bits that have helped me, and I am now paying it forward in hopes that it helps someone else out there. Especially when you’re sitting there with tears rolling down, landing on your beautiful baba, as you question your strength, your fibre, your weakness, your resolve. Especially in those times, I hope this post helps remind you that you are strong, momma bear, and you’ve got this!
Good luck with your breastfeeding journey, and if you’re not on this journey, I hope you share this with someone who is or may benefit from it. X