When boobs go bad

I’m writing this in bed. Why? Because I have the dreaded mastitis.

I love breastfeeding, but I think a lot of people find that it isn’t as easy or instinctive as they may at first think. So today, while boobs are on my mind, I thought I’d put my peer supporter hat on and share some of common breastfeeding issues.

1. Poor latch – Poor latch gives rise to an unbelievable range of problems. From sore cracked nipples, pain while feeding, clicking noises, babies pulling off the breast or being windy; the whole specturum can be attributed to problems with positioning/latch.

First port of call should be you Health Visitor or Midwife, but if they check your latch, think its fine and you still experience problems it would be worth asking for an appointment with your local lactation consultant/breastfeeding counsellor. Lactation consultants should also be able to advise whether there are any underlying issues such as tounge tie.

2. Thrush – If you’ve ever had to take antibiotics while breastfeeding its worth keeping an eye out for thrush. As its a yeast infection, it gets worse over time and can be a nightmare to get rid of, so early treatment is key.

Thrush makes nipples incredibly sensitive, especially to the cold. They become itchy, often blanch after a feed, and are really, really painful to feed through; they best way I can describe it is that its like feeding through broken glass. Shooting pains after feeding are also common. For babies, thrush manifests itself as a furry white covering over the inside of the mouth.

As thrush can be passed from baby to mother and back again, it is essential that both are treated at the same time, with a topical cream for mum and and oral gel for baby. If these fail it is possible to take an oral anti-fungal tablet which can help. An anti-candida diet can also help, which includes omitting refined sugars, products containing yeast and fungi.

3. Engorgement – Engorgement is when boobs become so full of milk that they are hard and solid; like rocks. This is very common as supply becomes established in the early days and is usually relieved by putting baby on the boob. If the breast if too hard for them to be able to latch, then expressing a little milk off, either by hand or pump should help soften the breast enough for them to get on. If the breast is not emptying properly, there may be a blocked duct.

4. Blocked ducts – A blocked duct is, basically exactly what it sounds like, one of the milk passages being blocked. They can become sore and swollen but it is very important that you keep trying to feed from the affected breast, as painful as it is. Paracetamol can be used to relieve the pain (never use asprin while breastfeeding).

Often a baby’s suction is enough to get things going again, especially if you always offer the affected breast first so that they go it it hammer and tongs. Another good bit of advice is to massage towards the nipple while baby is feeding to try and get the milk moving. Warn compresses can also help soften things up, as can a warm bath. Its important, if you have a blockage, to keep feeding, expressing, massaging as much as you can because if its not cleared a blocked duct can turn into mastitis.

5. Mastitis – Mastitis is basically a blocked duct that has become infected. You know when mastitis hits; if you’ve had a blocked duct for a while and then you suddenly begin to feel very unwell – shivery, shaky and with horrible cramps and aches all over, basically like a bad flu. Often there will be a red, hot area of the breast, usually wedge shaped.

If you get mastitis there is little you can do apart from taking to your bed, it makes you feel really poorly. The treatment is much the same as with a blocked duct, although you can alternate ibuprofen with paracetamol to try and help with the inflammation, take your temperature down and relieve aches and chills. If however, things don’t start to get better within 24 hours I would recommend a trip to the GP, you may well need antibiotics to clear it up. Untreated, mastitis can turn into a breast abcess or at worst septicemia.

This happened to me when I was feeding DW. I was dangerously ill, kept refusing an ambulance because I insisted it was just mastitis and I needed to rest. Later I found out that I was hours away from shuffling off this mortal coil, which is a very frightening thing.

Mine is an extreme story, and I don’t want to end this on a low note because, well, even though I had loads of problems, some of them extreme, I still chose to breastfeed my second baby and I still love it. I love the fact that my baby needs me, I love the fact that I am able to provide for him, I love the sensation of feeding and I love that lovely release of oxytocin (the mothering/love hormone) you get with every feed.

Breastfeeding is a very special thing; and although it can throw a few curve balls your way, if you know where to find support, then you can get through it and it can beome a truly magical experience.

Other than your HV/Midwife/Lactation consultant support can also be found via the Breastfeeding Network (who also have loads of useful factsheets on their website, such as which drugs are safe to take while feeding), the La Leche League, NCT and the kellymom website.

Happy feeding mommas, I’m off to sleep!xxxx

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16 Responses

  1. Jen Dixon says:

    Great post, hope you recover soon! I was ill in bed with mastitis on Christmas Day 2010 🙁 Not a good experience but thankfully not as bad as yours! It’s great to see a post that admits there are problems that occur when breastfeeding and that it’s not always a walk in the park but that the problems can be overcome and the rewards are worth it! I believe that so many mums give up as soon as the first hurdle comes up, not because they want to but because they haven’t been told this could happen and don’t know what to do! This was me with my first child and I deeply regretted not seeking further support at the time but I am proud to say that I am still feeding my second child at 14 months and we have overcome many hurdles together!

  2. Annabelle says:

    I had really bad mastitis too. I had to have two courses of antibiotics and that didn’t clear it, it just kept it from getting worse. After the second round of antibiotics, I was fed up. I read up online and found the best cure:
    no bra (difficult when your boobs are full of milk) and even no clothing over the boobs to let them dry. I walked around my house topless whenever I could. This plus cream and homeopathy helped a lot. this was the only was I cured it.
    Hang in there. It is awful but of course breasfeeding is worth it.
    Sending you hugs!

  3. Emma says:

    Oooh I’ve had mastitis, its poop. The only thing that shifted mine was anti-b’s in the end. Keep feeding on the poorly boober. Hope you are feeling better soon. xx

  4. Cat says:

    Thanks ladies!

    I totally agree about the giving up thing Jen. We assume that because its a natural thing to do then its easy, then mums feel like a failure if they struggle/are in pain. If a friend hadn’t told me about the lactation consultant I don’t think I would have made it through the first few months. Often, its just a little support and guidance mums need and its hunky dory, but we don’t always know where to find it.

    No bra sounds quite daunting with full sore boobs I must say, but I can see how the fresh air/no pressure might help. I’ll give it a go this evening.. Note to self – remember to shut the curtains!:)

    Sorry to hear you’ve both suffered with it, it really makes you feel rotten (as I can currently testify)! Thanks for your support.xxxx

  5. Cat says:

    Thanks Emma. Given my past history with mastitis I got the anti-b’s yesterday after it hadn’t shifted for 24 hrs. Hope they’re starting to kick in. Little man is currently sleeping/suckling on the affected side which’ll hopefully help too.xxxx

  6. jo says:

    Hi Cat, thanks ever so much for this post and I really hope you feel better soon. I too totally agree with Jen about women giving up when they don’t really want to. Posts like this and lots of support is what’s needed to help Mums. As you say, Breastfeeding is not always easy, but the rewards outweigh the bad bits!
    Jo x

  7. Vicki sutcliffe says:

    Take care, I was there a few weeks ago, and with a newborn and toddler to look after plus in laws visiting it was rubbish!!
    I agree with the no bra, I just wore a vest for several days.
    heat pads, (gel hand warmers) and ice packs were really soothing. I also massaged the lumps while my son was feeding.

  8. Elvira Massa says:

    Hi Cat hope you feel better soon! Great post. I struggled too, but kept at it and think it’s the best thing ever.

    Agree with lactation consultant. After weeks of struggling I got help and never looked back. She was brilliant!

    I didn’t wear a bra either in the beginning, but choose tight lycra spaghetti strap tops. Breastfeeding pads stayed put and the top gave some support, without adding to the soreness.

    One more thing that had me worried. At one stage baby girls poops where green and she had upset tummy. Health visitor didn’t seem to know what it was. Eventually I found (online) that my breast could be producing ‘too much’ milk. Little one got a great amount of fore milk (thin thistquencing) and not enough hind milk (think, nutirious, food). By expressing some milk before the feed, this issue cleared in no time and baby’s tummy settled. After a few days my breasts had balanced themselves somehow (the magic of boobs for ya!)

    For something that seems so natural it is quite unbelievable how much help mums need. If only they knew and knew where to find it BF would be so much easier for many!

  9. Cat says:

    Thanks Jo, couldn’t agree with you more!xxx

  10. Cat says:

    Wow, mastatis and in laws, that sounds tough! Been doing lots of massaging and glad to say that the blockage/inflamation seems to be shifting, just got to stop feeling so rubbish/tired now!xxx

  11. Cat says:

    Thanks Elvira! Lactation consultants are fab aren’t they!

    Support is key for successful breastfeeding isn’t it, its just such a shame that all HV’s/midwives are not of the same ilk. I had a terrible Hv first time round, and would have given up if it wasn’t for the lactation consultant. This time round I have a fab HV – I think if they were all like her we see far fewer mums giving up on feeding!

  12. Crystal says:

    Thought it might be worth mentioning; a baby is of course the best type of suction for clearing blocked ducts and their related problems, but how many peope realise that for optimum suck the baby’s bottom lip should be placed as near to the offending duct as possible. This can mean lying down and having baby leaning over you at some seemingly odd angle, but babies can cheerfully feed from any direction on your boob. By moving the bottom lip to the duct, you can often clear it much faster than just feeding at the ‘normal’ angle. If you need any more information, go to the NCT website and look up ‘Biological nurturing’, i think they have some good pictures.

  13. Natasha P says:

    I had blocked ducts a few weeks ago (I don’t think it progressed to mastitis thankfully) and cleared it up by having lots of hot showers and aiming really hot water (as hot as I could stand) on the inflamed area and by expressing as much as I could in addition to feeds. I put my baby as much as I could on the sore breast and expressed from the other one to keep the flow going on that one. It cleared up in a few days. Really hope that you’re feeling better soon Cat, it’s awful!

  14. Cat says:

    That’s a really good point Crystal, I hadn’tt thought to mention it. Thank you 🙂

  15. Cat says:

    Thanks Natasha. I’m pleased to say I’m finally up and about today.xxxxx

  16. Jenny says:

    I’ve never had mastitis, thankfully, but I did have lots of issues in the first couple of months of breastfeeding, including pain at every feed and cracked nipples. One thing that I found really helpful, though, was to dry my nipple as soon as my little one came off, rather than sitting there with sore wet skin exposed to the air. Hope that helps someone!

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