I knew I was clueless about breastfeeding, but I had no idea it could mean a trip to the operating room for mastitis. I was simply befuddled that breastfeeding could be so difficult. It’s natural, right? Babies need to eat to survive; surely it should be simple despite the voices saying it wasn’t. Nevertheless I stood corrected.
I tried to stay patient when she wouldn’t latch on, and I cried with relief three days later when we met with a lactation consultant, and figured it out. The lady was a Godsend to a 20 something, desperate, emotional, first-time mom lost in the clutter of breast pump parts, nipple shields, and gigantic peek-a-boo bras.
After helping my new babe and me get the rhythm and rhyme of this nursing dance, the consultant explained that I had enough milk to feed triplets, but I was engorged, and she was pretty sure I had the beginnings of a mastitis infection. I followed her suggestion and scheduled an appointment with my OBGYN. The diagnosis was confirmed, I was given antibiotics, and sent on my way. I should have gotten better in a couple days, but I didn’t. Instead, the condition advanced, and the infected area was increasingly red, hot, and tender. I was weak with flu-like symptoms, and got little sleep, but I just figured that was typical for new moms. I had no way to reference what normal was supposed to be.
I thought I only had to endure the pain until the antibiotics did their thing, but then one day I got out of the shower and pressed the worsening red area, only to discover deteriorating skin and a seeping wound. It was as if the infection was trying to force itself from my body. ALL FROM BREASTFEEDING!
After my OBGYN inspected the hot mess my breast had become, I was referred to a specialist, and told that I had an abscess. They performed an ultrasound and stuck a large needle into the cankerous wound, attempting to drain the milky pus. My sister, who had come as chauffeur and moral support had the privilege of keeping me steady as I stumbled out of the office, woozy from pain.
The doctors advised that I keep nursing throughout the infection. It would help to relieve the blocked duct and maintain my milk supply. Determined to give my baby the best my body could offer, I did it. I applied wet heat to the troublesome area and continuously massaged out the backed-up milk. When I returned to the specialist for one last excruciating aspiration, it had not gotten better, and I was scheduled for surgery.
They rolled me away from my new baby and young husband on a gurney. When I woke up I had an open incision so that anything leftover could drain out. Because my husband had some medical training, he was able to help change the dressings rather than returning to have a nurse do it. It was absolutely disgusting and far from romantic, however he did it.
Thankfully, I healed up nicely, and baby had breast milk for a year. I can barely tell it ever happened now, but I will never forget the day my breast threatened to explode. Even with the episode behind me, I was still prone to infections, but I knew what to watch for and had gathered tips and tricks to better prevent any more build ups.
Here is how I learned to prevent mastitis:
- Don’t wear an under wire bra while nursing. It puts pressure on the milk ducts and increases the risk of blockage.
- Avoid cracked nipples. Use lanolin or another baby safe nipple cream to keep yourself from drying out and cracking. Cracks provide a way for bacteria to get into the breast. Nipple shields can also protect from irritation.
- If you find a plugged duct, which usually feels like a lump, do your best to rub that sucker out. Place a warm, wet cloth on the obstructed area before nursing. As the baby drinks, attempt to massage out the blockage.
If concerned about an infection, see your OBGYN for diagnosis and get antibiotics right away. You should start feeling better within 24 hours, but definitely within three days. If it continues to hurt and ache, go back to your care provider as soon as possible. The breast you save might just be your own!
And try the La Leche League Portland, Oregon for nursing consultations.