What One Thing No One Tells You About Breastfeeding Until You Are In Pain
When I was pregnant, I read up on nearly everything about breastfeeding.
However, I was shocked that breastfeeding can be painful.
A few minutes after birth, Coral latched onto my breast right away. She just knew what to do and at that instant, this became our favorite bonding time. She would gaze into my eyes while nursing. I could stare at her face for eternity and think to myself a tiny human being depends on me to feed, nourish and keep her alive. We had an instant connection.
She nursed all day/night with no breaks in-between. It was a huge adjustment for me attempting to get used to sleep deprivation, taking care of another human being, and having a tiny baby attached to my body 24/7.
At 3 weeks postpartum, I started to feel lightheaded, super fatigued and feverish. One of my breasts started to hurt more than usual. Maybe sleep deprivation finally caught up to me. So, I need more sleep. That night, my entire body began shaking. I had chills, but my side of the bed was drenched with sweat. Next morning, the breast started to swell up was really red and hot to touch. It felt like I got hit with a baseball bat and stabbed with a sharp knife at the same time. I was in absolute shock, trying to recollect if I read anything about this. What on earth was happening to me?
Every time Coral latched on, I clenched my teeth and wept. I cried a lot. I dreaded having to nurse her. I began to despise that bonding time. I hated that my breasts became the only way she would go to sleep. I wanted to give up.
I went to my OB/GYN and discovered that I had mastitis.
Mastitis is the clinical term for a breast infection. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, in the 1989 edition of her book Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, describes mastitis as an “infectious process in the breast producing localized tenderness, redness, and heat, together with systemic reactions of fever, malaise, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.” Breast infections are often preceded by plugged ducts that have gone unnoticed or untreated, or cracks in the nipple through which an infectious organism gains entrance to the breast tissue. – La Leche League International
Note: La Leche League International is an excellent source for comprehensive information regarding breastfeeding. The link above provides the causes of mastitis, treatments and what to do about recurrent mastitis.
I was producing abundant milk. When Coral fell asleep before draining the breasts, my milk ducts got clogged. There is a brief time frame between clogged milk ducts and mastitis. If the milk ducts do not get unclogged, then it will turn into mastitis. The doctor gave me antibiotics to clear the infection up. I also soaked in hot baths with Epsom salt and took Now Foods Sunflower Lecithin supplements (to help prevent sticky milk). Mastitis took me roughly a week to recover.
I never knew that I was supposed to drain both breasts at every feeding time. I never knew that I needed to pay attention to the symptoms of clogged milk ducts and work on unclogging them before they turn into mastitis. If I had not taken care of my mastitis, it becomes an abscess and that requires an emergency room visit.
When I mentioned mastitis to other mothers, they stared at me like I had two heads because they have never heard about it. Up to 1 in every 10 women who are breastfeeding get mastitis. Yet, most mothers have never heard about mastitis because either mothers who got mastitis are not sharing their stories or they believed it was something different. I joined a few mother groups online and you will not believe how many times I see a new mother begging for help with painful breasts.
After enduring my first mastitis experience, I was determined to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible. I refused to let one unfortunate experience to stop me. My goal was to make it to the six-months mark. Then, I would not feel regretful about giving up if I had to.
I got hit with mastitis not once, not twice, but four times in such a short period of time. Fortunately, I knew what to do when I got mastitis again and again. My recovery period was quicker each time. Once my milk supply began to calm down, breastfeeding went much smoother.
I never dreamed that I would surpass the six months mark, let alone making it to two years. I am still nursing my 2.5 years old toddler and it is still our favorite bonding time.