I’m an advocate for breastfeeding though I also fully respect any woman’s decision to not breastfeed. While I do stand by the mantra, breast is best, I also fully understand that the baby getting their nutritional needs met is ultimately best. That said, the first few days breastfeeding with Squeaker were not fun. I was ready to call it quits after the second day but I persisted on. And while, in toddlerhood, she’s not breastfeeding exclusively; it’s still bonding time that we enjoy. Most of the time. One of the times that I was not so thrilled was when I had an unexpected case of mastitis. Following advice from a group of breastfeeding moms, I quickly learned why you should keep breastfeeding through mastitis.
Mastitis was quite an unexpected bump in our breastfeeding journey. And believe me when I say, I hadn’t expected to be breastfeeding Squeaker past a year but it’s been working out quite nicely for us.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and the advice given is not to be used as a substitute for going to a doctor.
Though it may be painful, breastfeeding through mastitis will ultimately help.Click To Tweet
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is perhaps the most distressing problem you may encounter when attempting to breastfeed. You have been making it through the sleepless nights, the relentless feeding schedule, the diapers, the leaking… when all of a sudden you want to stop breastfeeding. Why?
Mastitis is the answer. One of your breasts is engorged. There is a slightly red patch which is painful to touch. When the baby feeds it’s extremely uncomfortable. After the feed your breast feels sore. You dread the next feed… and then you begin shivering. You think you have the flu. You have hot and cold sweats. You have a thumping headache. You retire to your bed and feel utterly miserable. Visitors encourage you to give the baby a bottle so you feel like you’ve failed… but there is a solution.
In most cases mastitis affects only one breast at a time. So what causes it?
Most often a new mom, whether or not she has previously breastfed, will suffer mastitis as a result of incorrect positioning or latching on of the baby. Consequently the milk is not properly drained from the breast and a milk duct becomes blocked. Other reasons include skipping feeds because you don’t want to feed in public or in front of visitors, or the baby is sleeping and you do not want to disturb him.
If you recognize the sensation of a blocked milk duct you may be able to avoid it progressing into mastitis by gently massaging your breast in the bath or shower. Massage downwards towards the nipple. You may feel a small lump which disappears as the duct becomes unblocked. You can also try feeding the baby more often and again massaging the sore area towards the nipple as the baby drinks. Another effective technique is to try expressing milk with the aid of an electric or hand pump.
However, if all your efforts are in vain and the duct does not unblock mastitis will often follow. Mastitis is simply when the blocked duct becomes inflamed and possibly infected.
If that blocked duct just won't go away, you just might have mastitis.Click To Tweet
Why You Should Keep Breastfeeding through Mastitis
Current medical advice is to continue feeding from the affected breast even if it is infected. The infection will not harm the baby. However, the last thing you may want to do is to feed from the affected side at all as it is so painful. This will only make things worse and you may end up with an abscess. If this happens you will need to have the abscess drained by a doctor.
If you are worried about your baby drinking milk from the affected breast a good alternative is to express and dispose of the milk and to feed only from the unaffected side. Your body will adapt. It will continue to supply enough milk for your baby from the unaffected breast. And as long as you express regularly from the affected breast the milk supply will be maintained. You produce breastmilk on a supply and demand basis so there will always be enough. When the infection clears up you can simply return to your usual feeding pattern.
If you do get mastitis and it does not clear up within a few hours you will probably require an antibiotic so speak to your doctor. Make sure to tell him you are breastfeeding so a suitable antibiotic can be prescribed.
To avoid a recurrence make sure you position the baby properly. Ensure he is not sucking on just the nipple but that he has a good mouthful of the areola also. Try to sit upright or if lying down do not lie on the breast. Make sure the baby is tummy-to-tummy with you, his nose and mouth facing the breast and that he is not creating a blockage with his chin or a hand or arms.
Mastitis usually clears up completely within a couple of days so put it in perspective. Don’t give up breastfeeding because you have mastitis. Instead ensure you don’t get it again; position your baby correctly, feed on demand and avoid skipping breastfeeds.
Though it's painful and you may want to skip it, keep on breastfeeding.Click To Tweet
My Mastitis Story
Before I realized I had mastitis, I was only dealing with a blocked duct. Squeaker hadn’t been emptying that side properly and I should have been hand expressing just to make sure it was emptied. But I wasn’t and so I went about my way. All of this started on a Thursday- of Father’s Day weekend, or at least that was when I began to notice the discomfort.
It wasn’t until Saturday when were out running errands (shopping at Big Lots, going to a birthday party, going to Toys R Us… you know, the usual things that people do) that something really started to happen. The pain was getting worse and more consistent, but I still thought it was just a blocked duct.
Fast forward to that evening, after making a family favorite of steak quesadillas for dinner, almost immediately after finishing my food I felt chills. At first I thought it was just going to pass, but then it just got so overwhelming.
After the chills hit, my body started to ache and I could feel that fever coming on.
I let Squeaker nurse and then I took my temperature. Imagine my surprise when it was already at 102.
But did I go to the hospital? Of course not.
I was convinced that I would be fine if I just took something for my aches and fever. Throughout it all, I also noticed that the affected breast was getting more painful to the touch. But, I rode it out and convinced myself that if I wasn’t better in the morning, I would go to urgent care.
On Sunday morning, my fever wasn’t quite so high but still enough to be bothersome. I felt even worse about the ordeal because it was Father’s Day and I didn’t want to have to spend the day there when it was supposed to be Kyle’s day.
Still, I’m glad we went.
Would you believe that it wasn’t until I was sitting in the examination room at urgent care that I finally looked at the affected breast? I had a triangular shaped red rash, right where it was painful to the touch.
The attending physician diagnosed mastitis on the spot and prescribed antibiotics. I also got a starter shot at urgent care.
Even though it was still somewhat painful, breastfeeding through mastitis on the affected side definitely helped. And when Squeaker couldn’t get much from that side, I hand expressed while she nursed on the other side.
So, moral of the story? If you feel that tell tale aches and chills that usually accompany the flu, but you also feel pain and discomfort in one of your breasts…. check for a rash because it just might be mastitis.
Have you ever had mastitis? What advice would you share for breastfeeding through mastitis?