Mastitis – Why, What and How

Mastitis – Why, What and How

When I think back on my days as a new mom, I often wonder “why didn’t anyone say anything about this?” or “where was that in the book?”. When I was still pregnant I did everything I could to bulk up in the baby-knowledge department, I read the books, attended classes, questioned my Doula about things at all hours of the day, I felt pretty damn prepared.

No book told me, that all that knowledge would still not be nearly enough to prepare me for the rollercoaster of new parenthood.  There are wonderful, unexpected and sometimes downright awful surprises around every corner and one of these nastier surprises came in the form of mastitis.

What is Mastitis?

It is an inflammation of the breast tissue that sometimes involves infection. This can result in pain, swelling, warmth and redness. You can also have a fever or chills.

Possible causes of can be either a plugged milk duct, or bacteria that has entered the breast (usually via the nipple) but can also occur due to poor drainage of breastmilk, constrictions of the breast, physical trauma such as a kick to the breast from a toddler.

It is commonly found in breastfeeding women, usually within the first 3 months of starting to breastfeed.

Mastitis can be resolved within days to weeks.

When dealing with Mastitis there are home care options (if the infection or symptoms are mild) these include:

  • Feeding often from the affected breast
  • Applying heat to the breast
  • Changing feeding positions frequently (to help stimulate the milk to come through)

If these do not help within 24 hours, or you start to feel very unwell immediately seek the advice of your healthcare provider, their treatment options may include the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Drainage
  • Surgery

The severity of your case can only be determined by a qualified professional, but the absolute best thing you can do no matter what treatment you are following is to continue feeding on the breast, often times your baby is able to clear a blockage within the duct with their suckling motion, and it is completely safe for them to ingest.

This was my journey with Mastitis.

I knew from day 1 that I wanted to breastfeed, not due to any sense of breast is best or any of that I just wanted to experience every aspect of motherhood humanly possible and breastfeeding naturally seemed to top that list right after a natural birth. Of course because I was often thinking about this subject, my evenings were filled with nightmares of not being able to produce milk or sometimes that my boobs literally fell off my body as I was walking… hormone dreams are the best.

After my daughter was born it wasn’t even a full minute before she was latched on and sucking away.  Success. The first week was, let’s call it intense. I knew I would be spending a lot of time breastfeeding, but I had just no idea how much time that would be for me and my little girl. I would say on average those first 2 weeks we probably spent about 10-12 hours a day breastfeeding (bear in mind that’s within a 24 hour cycle).  I felt like a dairy cow strapped to the bed most days and other days I was grateful that I got to have these amazing little cuddle sessions every day.

But on day 3 post partum the pain started. It was slight at first, as my baby was latching on I felt a shooting pain that radiated throughout my breast and I figured it was just a once off.  But then it kept on happening – every time she latched on there was a sharp burning pain that shot through me and by day 4 the pain was so intense that I feared having to feed.  I of course tried all the methods, changing breasts, rotating latching positions, nipple cream, air drying, breast milk, nothing seemed to help.

By day 10, I said to myself that I would try nipple shields and if that didn’t work we would move over to formula (out of desperation I secretly hoped they would make no difference as I felt broken and defeated). Alas, I tried the shield and latched my baby, it was still uncomfortable at first, but not nearly as tough as it had been that past week and just that little reprieve from the pain gave me strength to push ahead and continue breastfeeding. A few days after starting with the shields I noticed that my left breast was achy and painful even when I wasn’t feeding and it got to the point where I couldn’t even sleep on my left side. The next day as I was poking around I felt this small little bump in my breast, and saw that around it the skin was red and inflamed, this prompted me to have it checked out.

At my doctor’s visit a physical examination was done after which I was sent for a mammogram to confirm exactly what was going on. The mammogram revealed an abcess  sitting at the bottom of my breast.

I was given 3 options:

  1. Surgery to remove it
  2. Antbiotics to see if it would go away unhindered
  3. Aspiration (meaning a needle inserted into the breast to suck out what was in there)

I was not thrilled with any of these options but decided to go for the less invasive option of  antibiotics.  Although I started feeling better after some time on the antibiotics, another trip to the doctor revealed the abcess had grown and aspiration would be needed.

The procedure produced an 85ml mixture of consisted of blood and mostly breastmilk that had obviously not been coming out correctly – the theory was that I had contracted an infection in my cracked nipple and it had just gotten progressively worse. I ended up requiring a second round of aspiration in the following week and then finally after about 2 weeks of healing I was feeling better and finally able to sleep on my left side again and not tear up when touching my chest.

The reason for sharing this story is not to scare anyone into what could happen, every mama is uniquely and wonderfully different, but rather to inform of a topic that is not so often talked about and to remind you that there are struggles that come along with motherhood, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, but that at the end of the day those struggles are temporary. I take great pride in knowing what I had endured to reach my goal of breastfeeding and now my daughter is mixed fed between formula whilst I am at work and breastfed while I am home.

This wasn’t how I envisioned our feeding journey, but things change and life happens, today I am happy, my daughter is healthy and we enjoy every day together.

Things may not always go to plan, and that’s ok, as we say – there are no perfect mom’s only mom’s doing their best.