This one is for the nursing moms! Ugh — I recently got mastitis for the first time. My son is two now, so this really took me by surprise. If you don’t know, Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue, caused by a clogged milk duct or bacteria, and characterized by redness, hardness or a lump, and flu-like symptoms (Check out the Breastfeeding Dictionary for more related nursing terms!). Although it really sucked (no pun intended), it forced me to take some time to focus on self-care, and gave me a new, unique way to benefit others.
As my purpose here is to be as helpful as possible to you, my amazing reader, I thought I would share my experience in hopes that you have some idea of what to expect or do should this tragedy ever befall your precious milk-makers.
How I Knew It Was Mastitis
It all started super randomly. I just had pain. I don’t remember it hurting as soon as I woke up, just that my left boob was sore and there was a red mark. It sort of felt like bruising. I had previously been nursing much less on that side than usual because my teething toddler left a cut that caused severe pain whenever he tried to latch, so it only made sense that this was going to turn out to be a clogged duct or mastitis. I had read so much about these things as a new nursing mom, so I had a pretty good idea of what to do: I needed to apply heat and massage it as much as possible. I’m ALMOST embarrassed to admit that since I was on my way out the door, I decided to use a hand warmer as an on-the-go heating pad (I wouldn’t recommend this because, in retrospect, I don’t know what is in them or if it can transfer from being against the skin, so please check with your doctor before considering it). I felt awfully creative at the time, though.
I was hoping that it was just a clogged duct and that by massaging and applying heat it would be fine, but as the day progressed I started to feel terrible. I felt tired, had slight body aches, and I had a fever coming on. I knew it was turning into mastitis, so I gave my doctor’s office a call and left a message for the nurse in hopes of getting antibiotics. That is the most important advice I have to offer you: call your doctor and follow his/her advice. I am not a medical professional and my experience is by no means medical advice, and should not be considered as such. What worked for me may not work for you, or may work against you, which is why it is important that you speak to a professional who knows your medical background and history.
How I Treated It
This is what I did while waiting for their call to ease the pain and get back to normal as quickly as possible: I Googled stuff! I found a few suggestions on WebMD saying that it is best to keep nursing, apply hot compresses, massage, and get rest. Wonderful. I am supposed to nurse as much as possible on the affected side even though the reason it got clogged and infected was because I avoided nursing due to open wounds, and try to rest as much as possible while chasing around and entertaining a super active two-year-old. This was going to be a fun few days.
- I nursed through the pain. It sucked, but I knew it was for the best. This was hard because like I said, I had cuts (teething sucks even worse for nursing moms), so every now and then it’d start bleeding and we’d have to stop. I used lanolin and nursing pads to keep the blood off my clothes and heal the wound between nursing sessions. I tried hand expressing but it has never really worked for me. I got one squirt of milk out but that was all, no matter how many times I tried. I did keep trying because I thought it would at least help release the clog.
- I used Boob-Ease (microwaved) to help with pain. They are so soft and amazing. I’d recommend heating them in short increments, because they can get too hot very quickly – which does not feel good on such a sensitive area!
- I massaged it as much as I could. I was either trying to hand express, or just trying to work out the clogs with some massage techniques. Especially during nursing, after using heat, or in a hot shower. I honestly don’t know if this helped at all because it didn’t feel so good, but everyone kept telling me it was supposed to so I just kept doing it.
- Napped while the baby napped. This one can be so difficult for me because it’s literally the only free time I have to get anything done other than after he goes to sleep for the night. It really took a lot of effort on my part to stop writing this post, and go lay down. I knew we had a big children’s museum play date the following day so I wanted to get as much rest as I could so I didn’t have to skip it – I am such an extrovert and need things like this for my self-care as well! However, it is so important to get enough rest when your body is fighting off an infection, so please make sure that you don’t skip this step or do too much. Cancel the plans if you need to.
- I took a hot shower. I always heard this would somehow help loosen the clog, so I gave it a shot. If nothing else, it just felt nice to get a shower!
- I got antibiotics from the on-call OB. I fell asleep at the end of my toddler’s nap around 4 and my SO just happened to come home early enough that he was able to get him up and let me rest. It was amazing and much needed, but since I was in bed until around 7pm I missed the call from my doctor’s office about this whole mess and couldn’t call back. I decided to follow the advice of the wonderful moms in a nursing Facebook group I am in and try the OB’s office instead, and although I always hated calling after hours, I’m glad I did! I was supposed to take this prescription every 6 hours, but I’m going to be honest: I fell so short with that. I was trying to wake up and set alarms but with a bedsharing toddler that was basically impossible, and I am so forgetful. I did the best I could with it, and luckily the infection cleared up quickly despite my self-care fail in that area.
I am seriously glad that’s over with. And I’m happy to report that the cuts have finally healed as well. My heart goes out to you if you are dealing with mastitis right now. Please make sure to take care of yourself! For some people that might look like breaking out the freezer stash, or some formula/milk, and pumping. Don’t let mom guilt get in the way of your health, because nobody will benefit if you wind up in the hospital with an abscess. If you need a reminder to rest and ask for help, like I sometimes do, this is it!
Did You Ever Have Mastitis?
I’d love to hear your experience and what helped you conquer mastitis. Please leave a comment below sharing your tips, or send them over to me in an email! I also got inspiration from writing this post: Mastitis was so terrible for me to deal with now, that I can’t imagine how awful it would have been as a brand-new breastfeeding mom with a newborn. I think I will do a post in the future dedicated to caring for a mom with mastitis. Let me know if you have any ideas, like what you would put in a gift basket, how you would offer to help or support her, or what kind of things you would have really appreciated in the midst of the infection. Can’t wait to read all the great feedback!