Mastitis…. My Old Friend

November 15th, 2011 | Posted by Sara in Being a mum | Life

No one ever told me that breast-feeding would be easy, but to be honest I assumed that it would be, after all it is the natural thing to do. I expected some nipple soreness, and I had been warned that for the first week or so it would be uncomfortable as my milk came in and then settled.

15 weeks in – my milk has far from settled, I am still producing more than enough to feed twins (or triplets even!) and I am facing my 3rd bout of mastitis. I wear breast pads and nursing bras 24/7 and I  have to get in & out of the shower quickly to avoid having milk squirting around the bathroom.

Of course being from a farming background I knew what mastitis was, I had seen sheep & cattle with it – I always cringed at how uncomfortable the poor animals looked. It never occurred to me that I would get it.

Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the breast caused by either bacteria entering via a small crack in the nipple, or as a result of a blocked duct. Symptoms include flu-like aching, red blotches on the breast & hard lumps that form under the blotches. These areas become so tender to touch that even my daughter stroking them as she fed feels like I am having my teeth pulled. Probably the WORSE thing about mastitis is that part of the treatment is to continue feeding or expressing from the infected breast as often as possible, but even this isn’t easy – the infection stops or slows the let down, meaning that it not only harder for the Worm to get her milk, but it is also harder to express, the usually simple & enjoyable act of feeding my child becomes torture.

To add to the joy of having breast pain, fatigue & muscle soreness I now have to deal with a baby who hates the way the antibiotics changes the flavour of my milk – I’m sure that it is no longer the chocolate flavoured goodness that she expects. Last time the antibiotics effected her tummy too, and she had the same diarrhoea & wind for the first 24 hours as I did.  The main problem is that we have to persist with this particular drug – I am allergic to the prefered drug (penicillin) and the only other alternative available involves being admitted to hospital with an IV drip – so I am avoiding this at all cost.

In addition to the antibiotics the best treatments I have found are fairly simple – REST, heat packs, massage prior & during feeding, cold packs immediately after feeding & ensuring the breast is totally drained –  In my case this leads to overstimulation of the milk duct, my body thinks I am feeding twins again and I produce more milk – it is a vicious cycle.

I didn’t intend on this post being a ranty/whingy/woe is me story – In fact just the opposite is true. In my research of Dr Google for the initial bout of mastitis (10 weeks ago) I noticed that many websites recommend waiting 24-48 hours before seeing the doctor. I want to argue against that & tell new mums that if they think they are suffering from some of the symptoms of mastitis they get themselves to a GP as soon as possible. I live in the back of the boon-docks, in rural South Australia so I know exactly how hard it can be at times to get an appointment, however they are usually able to squeeze you in if you say its mastitis, believe me if you let it set in you will feel like death warmed up, so early action is the best medicine.

Men – one word of advice for you here – don’t even consider playing Madonna’s “Express Yourself” at any stage during your partners battle with mastitis, believe me it is not funny.

I’m linking up with Jess at Diary of a SAHM for I Blog on Tuesdays. Click on the button below to read other Tuesday blog posts.

What are your experiences with my old friend Mastitis?

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37 Responses

  • bron says:

    Hi there,

    I found your blog via a comment you left on Aspiring Mum (hasn’t the ’30 days of calm’ been great!). Sorry to just like, randomly drop by… but I couldn’t help myself as mastitis has been a continual problem for me too.

    I’ve got 2 kids, a girl who is almost 2 1/2 and a boy who is 8 months. Both times I’ve had terrible oversupply. I’ve spent the first 2 weeks after each baby with ice packs almost continually on my boobs. It’s taken months and months for the milk supply to settle down, so yes – I do understand! You have my sympathy. And I hope no one tries to make you feel bad for complaining about it cos supposedly, “it’s a better problem to have than not enough” – grrr! Both are physically and emotionally difficult. There are things you can do about undersupply though, and very little you can do about oversupply. Though, I have found a few things that are helpful.

    Back to mastitis – gosh, sorry I know I’m a complete stranger, I guess it’s just helpful to be able share sometimes! So with my girl I had mastitis (to the point of full flu symptoms) 5 times (breastfed for 12 months). I only needed antibiotics once though. And there were many many times I had painful milk stasis but managed to head it off before it became full blown mastitis.

    With the boy it’s been much worse though. I’ve had 8 courses of antibiotics in the first 7 months. It flares up really quickly now. I will just wake up with it and if I don’t get treated straight away it will be infected and red by the end of the day.

    Even though I’m a big believer in breastfeeding, I’m at the point where I’m actually considering early weaning (like, in the next month or two). And if we have more kids I’m seriously considering planning to only feed for the first 3-6 months and switch to bottle after that. It’s a difficult decision to make though. I’m just not sure how much more of this I can take!

    I hope everything settles down for you soon. I did find that there was a point with my daughter between 5-8months ish where it was fairly settled. But then once you start them on solids and they start dropping feeds you risk having issues again, or if they suddenly sleep through when before they weren’t. It pays to be quite careful as “late” mastitis is a possibility (I got it a few times).

    I dunno if it would be helpful for you, but a few things that’ve helped me are:

    phyto-estrogens (estrogen helps lower milk supply, and there are few plants with lots of it. I haven’t found any scientific evidence, but I’d heard of drinking sage tea and also eating lots of flaxseed -ie, linseed and soy. I think it has been helpful for me. the tea certainly was, but it does taste a bit gross).

    knowing that if I have to suddenly wean it is possible to dry up milk supply by going on the combined pill. I haven’t had to do it, but I just felt reasssured knowing that was an option

    ice packs – especially in the first few weeks – and avoiding anything hot, especially hot shower after a feed.

    another old wives tale, but one I’ve found to be true – avoiding oats, especially porridge, and also beer. If I have either of those I will be guaranteed to be extra full later or the next day.

    avoiding expressing and massaging – for me, it only makes oversupply worse. And since oversupply mastitis is caused by the milk backing up into the surrounding tissues (which then makes its way into the bloodstream where your body thinks it’s a foreign protein so initiates the immune response which makes you feel like you’ve go the flu)… I found that massage was likely to force more milk into the tissues and make it worse. For me, and possibly by the sound of it you too, it isn’t even a blocked duct or a crack- it can just be that there’s so much milk the pressure causes it to back up.

    I get so sick of doing it, but when a partiular area is lumpy or blocked I often lay bub on the floor (or on an armchair if they’re little) and feed “upside down” – ie, me on all fours or leaning over them. This is the only way I can get bub’s chin onto the affected area (that’s the best way to drain it). This is particularly the case now my milk has sort of settled down but the sides are still very full (it always feels like a curly telephone cord leading up towards my armpit).

    Anyway, I hope things get better for you! You definitely have my sympathy 🙂

    • Sara says:

      Thanks so much for visiting Bron – I know you said it was your first visit, but I hope it wont be your last 🙂

      The decision to persist with breastfeeding is a hard one. For me I am not considering weaning at this stage, yes I am having some troubles but I would like to feed the Worm until she is 1 at least. I agree with you regarding oats – I no longer eat porridge which is very sad as it was my favourite breaky!
      I am sure that my battle with mastitis will eventually end. Although I know that having a milk oversupply is not as commonly discussed as an undersuply I am forever thankful that I have plenty of milk to feed my baby. I don’t have to get too stressed about ‘spilt milk’ (I spilt 50ml of EBM over my pants & freshly washed floor this afternoon!)

      Thanks again for visiting

      • bron says:

        Good on you for persisting! It does get better and it does end, as everyone has said. And you’re right – it’s so beneficial. I’m also thankful there are antibiotics available – I imagine it must’ve been far more dangerous for mothers in times past.

  • Poor you! Mastitis sucks! Is this your first bub? It’ll take a while, but the milk will settle.. A lot smoother the second time round. Your body seems to know a llit better what to do. Seems like ove pretty much got the mastitis under control and have done your research. Hope you get some relief soon!
    Anna Millie recently posted..On Subliminal Sex MessagesMy Profile

    • Sara says:

      Thanks Anna (is that your real name?!?!…… I visited your blog this afternoon 😉 )
      I’m hoping that it settles soon, however every time my breasts get soft I worry that they are all dried up. I didnt realise until this week that most women who feed dont have over engorged breasts 24/7! Soft is normal 🙂
      Although the mastitis hurts & knocks my energy levels around it is an evil that I know how to combat so I dont get too stressed about it.
      Thanks for visiting

  • Ooh Sara, ouchy!!! I am soooo thankful I’ve never had it with either kiddies so far! I did have oversupply and a blocked duct with my son, but not mastitis. Hope it all clears up for good soon!!
    Alyce {Blossom Heart} recently posted..The Pinterest Make Me Challenge – Rainbow Memory CardsMy Profile

  • Veronica @ Mixed Gems says:

    I was scared to get mastitis but fortunate not so far. I’m still Breastfeeding bub and hope the rest of the time runs smoothly. Sorry you had to go through it.
    Veronica @ Mixed Gems recently posted..iPhone 4S Dictation HumourMy Profile

    • Sara says:

      Thanks Veronica
      Although the mastitis is painful at least I know what to do to fight the infection now so I don’t it scare me too much.
      Breastfeeding is a wonderful gift we can give our babies & I am glad that it is something I can do (relatively easily)
      Thanks for visiting

  • kirri says:

    You are a legend! Really. Mastitis can be so painful and debilitating in that you feel like doing nothing but staying in bed yet its difficult to do that when you have wee babies to care for. I had a lot of painful problems b/feeding and for me it only became ‘easy’ at about 5 months. In retrospect Im amazed I made it that far.
    kirri recently posted..If you want to be happier, have more fun.My Profile

    • Sara says:

      Hi Kirri,
      WOW – thanks for giving me legend status! I’m just a girl trying to do my best.
      When Worm was sick in the hospital pumping was the only thing I could do to help her. It was the only thing that made me feel like I had a baby, seeing the milk fill the tiny syringes initially & then the big containers made me feel that I was doing just one thing for her that noone else could do.
      I think EVERY mother is amazing for doing what they can.
      Thanks for visiting
      Sara recently posted..It’s time to PARTY!!!! (& there’s a present for you!)My Profile

  • Jess says:

    Sara I have had mastitis so many times it’s not funny. Multiple times with four children, so I feel your pain. It’s no fun at all! I was a bit like you too; heaps of milk. And always leaking everywhere. We always joked I was a very good cow.

    Rest is the key I’m convinced! Without it it’s an uphill battle!
    Jess recently posted..An IBOT Service Announcement: Interview StyleMy Profile

  • Julie says:

    Oh, you poor thing! I’ve been fortunate never to get it – cracked nipples and nipple thrush, yes, but not mastitis. Good on you for persisting with feeding and hopefully some of the suggestions Bron gave will be helpful…
    Julie recently posted..Advent Calendar 2011My Profile

  • Megan says:

    Sara, my heart goes out to you. I had recurring mastitis with my first two babies. It was extremely difficult to manage. I used to turn myself into a stressed leaky lump trying to work out what caused that particular episode. Sometimes it was a sick snuffly baby not draining the breast. Sometimes it was an ill-fitting bra, sometimes a kick or blow to the breast by an over-active feeder. On reflection it seems the consistent factor was that I got mastitis when I was feeling exhausted or stressed – not looking after myself.

    I used all of the techniques you have, but also ultrasound therapy at a physiotherapist.

    In the end I got a prescription from my GP so I had it on hand at all times. Sometimes I even had the prescription filled and on standby.

    I haven’t read it, but have sometimes thought this book might be a good read:

    I hope it eases for you and your supply settles soon.

    • Sara says:

      I have a prescription here that I am about to have filled & in the cupboard for next time. I am confident that I know when to self-diagnose now!
      I have heard about the ultrasound therapy at the physio, but I havent had a chance to look into it yet – I will though!
      Thanks for reccomending that book – I’ll check it out.
      Thanks so much for visiting & commenting Megan. I appreciate it.
      Sara recently posted..It’s time to PARTY!!!! (& there’s a present for you!)My Profile

  • Hi there,
    I really feel for you, I also had recurring mastitis and realised when bub was 3 months old that sleeping on my stomach was contributing. I would turn onto my tummy while asleep so I had to use a body pillow to prevent this! I read absolutely everything I could find on mastitis and only came across a reference to tummy sleeping as a cause once. I hope it all settles down for you x Sibylla

  • I think I nearly had a brush with it in the hospital and often had sore nipples – I ended up having everything expressed and drained and it made a big difference . Even twelve years on, my breasts still tingle when I hear the word “breastfeeding”.
    Liz@LastChanceTraining recently posted..Hot or cold?My Profile

  • I had all sorts of problems with breastfeeding CrashGirl. You name it, I had it, including mastitis. It was 16 weeks before I experienced a pain free feed. I’m so glad I stuck at it though because we continued our happy BFing journey until she self weaned at 1 year old. It’s great that you’ve included so much information and advice of other new mums in your post. Well done and good luck with avoiding another bout.
    Laney @ Crash Test Mummy recently posted..How to make salt dough Christmas tree ornamentsMy Profile

  • Oh you poor thing – i hope this heals quickly for you.
    I really don’t have any advice for you though as I totally sucked at breastfeeding with all 3 of my kids. 🙁 xx
    Sonia @ Life Love and Hiccups recently posted..Poison, Poop and Padded Cells!My Profile

  • Jayne says:

    Oh, poor you! I managed to dodge that bullet with my two. I had a blocked duct and difficulty feeding once or twice, but it never progressed any further.

    I hope this is the last of it for you.
    Jayne recently posted..Sugar-free VeganMy Profile

  • hope you’re feeling better soon Ive never suffered from this (I have trouble making enough milk) but my sil was very sick and has been hospitalized twice with it.. not nice at all x
    mums the word recently posted..Christmas Craft~ Weaved Christmas Place MatsMy Profile

  • Daisy says:

    I agree – it is TOTALLY important to get to a doctor asap. The sooner those antibiotics are in you and working, the sooner they can go away!
    I was very very lucky and in nearly three years of breastfeeding (with a 6 month break in between Roo stopping and the boys being born) I only came close to getting mastitis once – but I was in the hospital while the twins were still fattening up so I had midwives on call to help me and they identified a blocked section of ducts straight away – heat packs, hot showers, cold washers and my old friend the Medela Swing (I see he is a friend of yours as well!)
    Daisy recently posted..7 Things I Never Knew About Migrating My BlogMy Profile

  • Jo says:

    Ouchie! ooh Sara, it sounds so painfull. Sending you healing vibes xoxo

  • Cate P says:

    Oh dear Sara, I should’ve blogged about my early breastfeeding days with my first, then you’d have been well prepared!
    All that and more. I had very cracked nipples as well, and one seemed to bleed constantly, and that was the one suffering most from mastitis. It meant I couldn’t use the milk that I pumped from that one as it contained blood.
    Fun times. Damn, you’ve brought back some memories… painful ones, but I can laugh about it now. Visions of me sitting watching cricket on tv with the electric pump going, Husband complaining how noisy it was.
    Going to a friends hen’s night and leaking constantly. Coming home, stripping off (in front of another friend) and just leaning over the bathtub while milk squirted every which way for a good 10 minutes, while I moaned with such pleasurable relief it probably sounded like an orgasm. Poor friend didnt know where to look.
    Trust me, you will smile… maybe with a grimace… one day.
    Hang in there babe.x

    • Sara says:

      LOL! I think this is one of the “things they don’t tell you!” If new mums were told all the gorey details about feeding maybe there would be even more formula fed babies out there.
      I often sit on the couch watching TV with the pump going – fortunantly my hubby has never complained about the noise though. You know its bad when you see a pump harness that lets you pump without holding the container & you get excited about the possibilities!
      Thanks Cate
      Sara recently posted..It’s time to PARTY!!!! (& there’s a present for you!)My Profile

  • You have my full sympathies, I only had a very mild case of it that resolved quickly but that night was the most horrific night of feeding I ever had. I am allergic to penicillin too and it can make situations like this very difficult as the last thing you want to be doing is causing any interference with feeding.
    I hope that you get some relief from this soon and can continue feeding as you like 🙂
    Excellent point to say that you need to see a doctor ASAP too, I am sure it can get quite severe quite quickly.
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