Childbirth Followed By Mastitis

This post is our third in a series on Mastitis. We have asked three moms to tell us about their experiences. You can see the other two posts here and here.

By Jenny Wiegley

Ten days after giving birth to my daughter, I called my best friend to complain about how sick I felt. I blamed it on the entire box of crackers I’d just eaten, which she agreed hadn’t been the best idea. But long after we’d hung up, I still felt sick. Actually, I felt woozy and dizzy, like I do when I have a fever. So I pulled out the digital thermometer, stuck it in my mouth, and lo and behold—101 degrees.

Figuring it might be an aberration, I got back into bed—the cozy spot from which I had not really moved since birth (given that my baby was sleeping between us in the bed, and didn’t do anything but sleep or nurse). Two hours later, the fever was up to 103, so I called the midwife, fearing the mastitis I’d read about before birth.

My midwife told me that it might just be a plugged duct, and recommended that I stay in bed, nurse frequently, and put warm compresses on my breasts before nursing. There was a smallish lump in my right breast, so I paid extra attention to it. I did NOT want to take antibiotics, since I never react well to them, and didn’t want them passing through my milk into my tiny daughter.

By the middle of the night, it was clear that I did have an infection, as my fever continued to rage. I felt like I had the worst flu I’d ever experienced. Every part of my body ached, I felt like throwing up, and I was completely dizzy and incoherent. I took Tylenol and my midwife phoned in a prescription for an antibiotic. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to Penicillin, the first line of defense for mastitis. It’s the only drug that really works quickly and well for the illness. Instead, I had to settle for the second-choice, another old school antibiotic that must be taken every four hours for two full weeks. Oh, and did I mention it causes extreme stomach upset? Lucky me!
For days I continued to feel terrible, but I kept nursing, nursing, nursing. My little baby was oblivious to the drama, and she ate well and remained very content. I never got out of bed, it seemed—just laid there, popping as much Tylenol as I could, and stuffing down snacks I didn’t even want for every dose of my medicine. As bad as it makes you feel WITH food, I would have certainly been vomiting if I’d taken it on an empty stomach.

What worried me was how I didn’t start feeling better quickly. And the lump in my breast grew larger. Fearing an abscess (which requires surgery, talk about terrifying!), my husband hauled me and the baby into my doctor’s office, where they performed an ultrasound. The doctor said it looked like old-fashioned mastitis, and emphasized what a shame it was that I couldn’t take the best drugs for the infection. Gee, thanks, Doc.

Now, 16 months later, I don’t remember much about my mastitis. I know that it took me a full two weeks to recover, and that it made nursing on the affected breast painful at times, but it really wasn’t so bad. If I hadn’t been so determined to make breastfeeding work, maybe I would have been tempted to give it up. But seeing how happy it made my little newborn to nurse, how could I stop? I made it out of the woods, and by 6-weeks postpartum breastfeeding was the easiest thing in my life! My daughter is still nursing (and still loving it!) at 16 months, and I have no plans to stop until she’s ready.

I did learn something very important from my mastitis—wear a comfortable nursing bra in those early days when the milk comes rushing in! Mine was cheap, and too tight, and I’m certain it put too much pressure on my milk ducts. With the next baby, I’ll know better—but if mastitis comes around again, I know I’ll get through it if I must.

Jenny Wiegley has one daughter and lives in Los Angeles, where she is a practicing attorney. She is fascinated with all aspects of natural birth and parenting and thinks breastfeeding is pretty much the greatest thing ever! You can find her on twitter @quazydellasue.

Did you have mastitis? Do you have any tips or tricks to pass along to new moms? Please share them by leaving a comment at the end of this post.

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