I can’t wait to see what weird internet searches that title brings to my blog.
I ended up with mastitis despite, or maybe because of, our erratic breastfeeding. I knew something was up but, not having breastfed before, wasn’t sure if I had blocked ducts or mastitis in my right breast. An internet search showed I wasn’t the first to ask this question. Handily, I had received a load of bumph from the maternity hospital, none of which I had read, and their breastfeeding booklet said that mastitis results in “pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast” and “may be associated with flu like symptoms and fever”. I had back, neck and shoulder pain; a right breast that was rock-hard, hot and bright red; and a sore underarm, and was really, really tired. I was so warm in bed that I was covered in droplets of sweat at times; I swear that the cabbage leaf I inserted in my bra (old wives’ tale, not sure if it ever works) was a slightly lighter shade of green after I fell into my bed one afternoon. Overall I was feeling like an old woman, particularly as I had pulled my c-section scar after the first week in the hospital and had what they thought was a little bleed behind it, adding undercarriage tenderness and pain to the overall mix.
My GP prescribed antibiotics, which hadn’t done much two days later, so I ended up in my third hospital of the month at the Breast Clinic. They sent me off for an ultrasound to rule out an abscess and, quite disgustingly and a bit painfully, took some pus samples from my breast. They confirmed I had mastitis, which was also in my lymph nodes, explaining the underarm and neck pain. I was prescribed a big dose of penicillin to go with the antibiotics for the following two weeks and told not to feed the baby the milk expressed from the right for that fortnight.
Coupled with my blood pressure meds, I was positively rattling with tablets but they had the desired effect. I got the all-clear on Thursday and am back expressing properly from both breasts.
I had thought mastitis was just a bit of breast inflammation but it’s nasty. What must it be like when you don’t have access to drugs.
We need to talk about breastfeeding
The admirable Jamie Oliver got into trouble recently for referring to breastfeeding as ‘easy’. It opened up a valuable discussion on the topic that I would have found useful before I attempted it myself.
Just as I didn’t have a birth plan, assuming things would take their course, I had an open mind about nursing, figuring it doesn’t suit everyone and not wanting to put pressure on myself if it didn’t work. Knowing what I now know, I’m not sure if I would try again. (Having said that, I probably would have felt guilty if I hadn’t tried and, as they say, any breastfeeding is better than none.)
I found the first week of feeding so, so stressful and upsetting. As I’ve said already, my only meltdowns in the maternity hospital were about nursing, and this was despite the fact my little boy had been diagnosed with a heart problem. I wouldn’t like to repeat the dark nights in the maternity hospital trying to feed my boy. I still don’t know if his lack of stamina for feeding was due to his heart problem but, either way, I can’t believe that I allowed my little baby to lose half a kilo in a few days because of our problems. There were signs that he was dehydrated – in case you are wondering, his skin was dry and his voice a little shrill when he cried, and he actually had an orange crust on his little penis a few days in, mortifying (though I had no idea what that meant and neither did the student midwife I asked). Plus, of course, the very scary tremors caused by the low blood sugar.
I have since been surprised on talking to friends that they too had problems nursing. One friend I later saw effortlessly feeding both of her babies had been on the brink of throwing in the towel two days in with her first child only to be encouraged/guilted by a hospital lactation consultant (who took away her bottles of formula) into continuing. Another friend whom I thought hadn’t ever tried just found it too distressing and gave up. Another talked about how exhausting the cluster feeding of the early days was.
As it is, I’ve ended up expressing a few times a day and filling the gap with formula. I’m glad to be able to give my son breastmilk but would rather he bypassed the bottle middleman, especially at those ridiculous times when I’m expressing with one hand and trying to bottle-feed him with the other. I’ve tried a few times recently to get him latched again but he seems to have lost the knack and gets frustrated and agitated with the whole thing. For whatever reason, I just don’t think he has the stamina to feed from the breast. Despite the slight inconvenience of sterilising bottles for breastmilk and preparing formula, I’m happy that I know with the bottles how much he’s taking in. Particularly with his heart problem, I don’t want to risk not giving him enough.
I’m not saying we should all be whinging about how hard breastfeeding can be in the early days, and I know that many worthwhile things take effort and commitment, but I think we could be a little more open about what to expect when starting to nurse. While I was battling with the fact that something ‘natural’ was so hard, I would have been relieved to know so many others have found the same and got through the other side.