Coping with the realities of breastfeeding
Oh, the joys of breastfeeding. Most of the time, you only hear the good things; it’s natural so it’s easy, breast is best, it helps mom lose weight faster, you won’t get pregnant while breastfeeding, it enhances the bond between mom and baby, etc. But, not only are these not true for every mama, people tend to leave out the bad and ugly bits. Raise your hand if you’ve experienced cracked and bleeding nipples, not fully emptying, engorgement, supply issues, clots, thrush, bad latches, leaking, spraying and mastitis. Seriously, why don’t people tell moms to be and new moms this! Trust me, I could go on and on, but let’s focus on the one that has the potential to be the WORST thing that has ever happened to you, mastitis.
Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast where an area of the breast is blocked from releasing milk. Redness, pain, and heat are typically present and sometimes a fever and those achy flu symptoms like to join the party too. Mastitis is pretty common in a mother’s lactating journeys and shows up, for most, during the first 6 weeks. If you’re as lucky as me, however, you can experience it all the way up until you wean–YAY! If you’ve never experienced mastitis, allow me to explain how it can feel.
Think about a slightly achy feeling in a specific part of your boob–uncomfortable right? Naturally, you push, rub, and do whatever you can to attempt to get the slight ache to go away. Next thing you know, you feel a little knot. I’ll be honest, the first time it happened to me, I thought, “Oh crap! It’s breast cancer. I’m so young though. I have a baby who needs me! My post-pregnancy hormone self is already losing hair in chunks but I’m about to go full blown bald! WHY ME?!” I told you. Honesty. As time goes on, the ache gets worse, the area starts getting red (I’m unsure how much of this was because I was assaulting my breast and how much of it was the actual infection), there is definitely pain and that entire area starts radiating heat.
By this time, I’ve googled enough to know that I’m either dying in the next 2 hours and it’s time to say my goodbyes as I weep and
The pump went from getting a drip every 5 seconds to a nice stream. The relief as you feel that blockage finally breaks through and the knot finally subsides is both mental and physical. It’s important to note that if you are unable to release this blockage within 12-24 hours, it is highly recommended that you see your physician as medications may be prescribed to ensure the infection does not spread. If the infection does spread, a breast abscess may develop and may have to be surgically removed.
As scary as this sounds, there ARE steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you. Take care of your nipples to ensure they don’t crack or bleed (damaged nipples are an open door to germs). Speak with a lactation consultant to help baby with a deep latch, promote fully emptying your breasts and respond quickly to the early signs of mastitis. Oversupply, weaning too quickly, blebs on the nipples, and skipping feedings/pumping can cause mastitis so just be a little extra careful with these situations. And don’t forget, you got this mama!
By Naomi Leitch
Photo by KaliNorton.com