Dear Mastitis: Stay Gone
August 17, 2018
When you’re pregnant for the first time, and you tell your lactation consultant and nurse you want to breastfeed your newborn, no one tells you about the “M” word at the hospital. Everyone is super encouraging and praising you for wanting to do something so natural. Perhaps if they had mentioned it to me, I would have been less inclined to breastfeed my first for as long as I did. I don’t even want to utter the word because it is so cringe-worthy. Lucky for me, I breastfed little Drew up until he was eighteen months and guess what— the red-eye breastfeeding monster, mastitis, did not make an appearance.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, never breastfed, and or never gotten to know that word well like I have, it is when milk builds up in the breast. It will cause inflammation and even an infection. Sure, I’ve had plugged ducts (the milk flow is obstructed so the nipple pore may be blocked), but I simply hand expressed those ducts and problem solved! Mastitis, on the other hand, is a bitch— yeah I said it.
The problem I had with mastitis is that it started slow, and then abruptly progressed at the speed of light and affected my left breast. That monster (or bitch— both are appropriate) slapped me in the face. Mastitis is no joke, and when I began learning more about it online, I realized there were so many mothers who could relate to my agonizing pain. It is said that roughly ten percent of breastfeeding mothers will experience mastitis. Based on that statistic, most nursing mothers who have not experienced it would think they’re safe, right? Wrong. Even mothers who have experienced it, have also stated they’ve been reintroduced to the monster more than twice. So, that probably means I’ll be greeted by the bitch again sometime soon.
I remember the night the pain came on. It suddenly hurt to have a sports bra (with no wiring) on. I was up all night, thinking I had another plugged duct that I was too lazy to get up and massage through. I had to lay on my back because if I laid on my side, I would probably scream. By the time it was six in the morning, my left breast felt engorged, but I ignored it because I had to take my children to the pediatrics. If anything, I would nurse my baby in the waiting room or pump milk after the appointment. On the drive there, however, I realized my breast felt like a massive rock on my chest. It was completely rock solid and not lumpy at all if I had any engorgement from my milk ducts.
After the doctor examined my youngest, I asked her to check my breast, and she was the one that said, “Uh oh, it appears you might have mastitis. You’ll need to call your obgyn.” I panicked so I googled this “mastitis” to get an idea of what I was dealing with.
Side Note: PLEASE DO NOT LOOK UP MASTITIS IMAGES. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
I freaked out after I saw those google images, I’m not going to lie. Some of those images were so unbelievably frightening and disgusting. I can never unsee some of the worst images that popped up.
I called my lactation consultant, and she told me if I left it untreated, it would worsen so I needed to see my doctor right away and get on antibiotics. I really hate taking medication so the idea of pill popping for the next couple of days really irritated me. I didn’t even like the fact that for pain relief medication, doctors strongly advised ibuprofen. I avoid taking that on a daily basis.
I sat in the car and spoke to my doctor over the phone, and he asked me a series of questions to determine if I did, in fact, have mastitis. Afterwards, he asked me to stop by his office so he could examine me because he did not feel comfortable diagnosing me over the phone (smart decision, doc).
At the office, I had my toddler and youngest with me, and for those of you who do not know of my toddler’s ways, he likes to cling on to me for dear life when he is around strangers. I had to carry him into the office, and on our way to the patient room, my son decides to press his entire body weight onto my left breast. I almost threw him out the window because of the pain he caused me. I have a high pain tolerance too, but if I’m being honest, I would rather give birth naturally (no epidural or medication) like I did three weeks ago than have mastitis.
So the doctor tells me to undress, and this was so difficult because by now, it is noon, and I’ve already been fighting mastitis from the night before so the pain is even worse. He asked me where the pain was stemming from, and I told him under my left breast it all ached. I could not even lift my breast to have him touch the inflamed areas, but he let me know I had red patches all under my breast and to prevent from worsening, he prescribed me antibiotics (the common course of treatment). The doctor had told me, “You take two pills a day for three days, and if the pain stops by the third day then do not take the rest. Also, you’ll need to continue to nurse your baby on that side and massage your breast. It will hurt, but it will make you recover much faster.”
That day was definitely the worst day for me because an outbreak of mastitis can be worse than a bad flu. For some women with severe cases, surgery is necessary for any abscesses in the breast.
When I got into the car to drive home, my breast was hurting more, that it hurt to even lift my arm. As I drove, my entire left side of my body ached and none of my joints wanted to cooperate. When I arrived home, I had all of the early signs of mastitis— the inflammation on my breast created angry shades of red all over, my boob was burning hot, my head ached, and chills coursed through my entire body. Every time I nursed Jade on my left breast or pumped milk to store it, I would grind my teeth and let out a plea for help because it felt like razor blades were cutting my nipple off.
The rest of that week I laid miserably on the couch breastfeeding, taking hot showers, massaging my breast as often as I could in the water, and soaking a hot wash cloth on my chest for soothing comfort. I avoided going out because that meant a bra would have to be put on and that thought was so torturous.
Thankfully, the mastitis cleared up by day four so I stopped taking my antibiotics. It has not resurfaced, and I do hope the bitch stays gone.
For anyone currently suffering from mastitis, here are some very helpful tips:
- Cold Cabbage Leaves: The coolness from the leaves will feel good against all of the heat radiating inside the breast.
- Warm Shower: If you stand in the water, it will relieve some pain but avoid the water spraying directly onto your nipple (just trust me on this).
- Massage: You’ll want to frequently massage your breast to clear out any plugged ducts.
- Dress Comfortable: Do not wear tight clothes. If possible, wear loose shirts or go topless if you plan to be home all day (forget even wearing a nursing bra– #freethenipple).
- Empty the Breast: You need to continue breastfeeding, hand expressing, and or pumping even if it has you in tears.
I hope you never have to experience the monster of a bitch, mastitis. Even though the tips above are going to be super helpful, please still contact your doctor first because I’m not a medical professional.
Now, if you are reading this and are experiencing symptoms of mastitis and currently breastfeed, I’m here for you, sister, because like everything else in life, it too shall pass.