So.  Mastitis.
August 14, 2009

Only a few days after I wrote here in praise of my mad breastfeeding skills – or in praise of the world’s greatest lactation consultant, IF YOU WANT TO NITPICK – the unthinkable happened.  I woke up with mastitis.

You know what breast infections are?  Breast infections are rotten fucking apples.  They are EVIL DEMONIC IMPS sent to terrorize nursing women.  They are the crust at the end of the peanut butter sandwich.  They are, well, foul.

So here I was, going on and on about how MARVELOUS and WONDERFUL breastfeeding is and then WHAM!  I’m sure that being body-slammed by an 18-wheeler hurts too, but having never experienced that, I’ll just have to say that mastitis is possibly the most excruciating thing I have ever endured.

And given that a few weeks ago I reached 9 centimeters of dilation before I made it hunched over into an emergency room (yes, I was THAT WOMAN), given that I just pushed a seven pound baby out of a very delicate region in my body, I THINK THAT’S SAYING SOMETHING.

Oh, the throbbing.  The burning.  The stinging and aching.  The pulsing, the pounding, the bleeding, the pinching, DID I MENTION THE BURNING?!

The books all tell you the same thing.  Do you have mastitis?  GO TO BED!  TAKE A WARM SHOWER!  DRAIN YOUR BREASTS REGULARLY!  But what they don’t tell you is this: you. cannot. function.  You have a baby to take care of and YOU.  CANNOT.  FUNCTION.  You are in so much pain, it’s all you can do to sit around unshowered and fart.

So this is what I’ve learned about mastitis:
      a)      People with babies do not just “go to bed,” because as soon as they do, their baby will begin to scream.  What a ludicrous notion.  People who write about mastitis SHOULD KNOW BETTER.
      b)      When you get out of that warm shower, the temperature change will turn your nipples into hard little bastards that scream in delight at your discomfort.  What is the benefit of a ten-minute warm shower if you spend the following half-hour bent in half from the pain?
      c)      Sadly, pumping does not effectively drain your breasts.  And manually expressing does not effectively drain your breasts.  So in order to survive mastitis without the unbearable hurt of engorgement, that baby has to suckle.  This will make you wish you were dead.

Oh, and I also learned that I have no desire to ever have mastitis again, so if anyone knows of a magic potion that I can stir up in my cauldron to prevent this from happening again, INQUIRING MINDS WOULD LIKE TO KNOW ABOUT IT.

And that is all.  Over and out.


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  1. By gretchen from lifenut on August 14, 2009

    I am so sorry, Sarah. Mastitis is truly awful.

    I’ve had it, and thrush, a couple of times. It’s important to know if you have mastitis or thrush, though. The symptoms can be very similar.

    Thrush can be just as painful as mastitis. The difference is that usually, with mastitis, you have a fever and aches all over your body on top of having horrendously painful breasts.

    There is no fever with thrush. You didn’t mention fever, so that’s what made me think hmmmmmm. Also, bleeding with mastitis is unusual. Mastitis is a deep-tissue issue, usually, whereas thrush attacks the nipples first, then goes deeper into the ducts.

    Also, mastitis is usually only on one side, whereas thrush is usually on both (of course there are exceptions…). Your baby won’t necessarily have the white sores in her mouth indicating thrush, either.

    The best cure for mastitis, I found, was to go on antibiotics. I called my OBs and told them what was going on. They phoned in prescriptions, which was nice because who wants to haul herself to a doc at that point? You’ll feel better in about 24 hours.

    Thrush is much harder to get rid of, but there are both herbal/homeopathic ways to ease your symptoms. For really bad cases, Nystatin is the way to go. You brush the liquid on your nipples.

    Prevention? If it’s truly mastitis, with fever and flu-like symptoms, I don’t think there is anything you can do to prevent a recurrence, other than making sure the bacteria which caused it is very, very dead. Antibiotics! The downside of antibiotics is that it will increase your chances of getting thrush, so make sure to take a probiotic with it. It is okay to take Tylenol, too.

    If you have thrush, make sure you are taking probiotics, get some gentian violet, paint yourself.

    I hope you feel better soon. Sorry about the long comment. I empathize with you, completely. Whatever is going on WILL go away, I promise.

  2. By Veronica on August 14, 2009

    6 times in 6 months. Mastitis fills me with dread and a horrible urge to cry.

    I feel your pain and hope you are better now.

  3. By C @ Kid Things on August 14, 2009

    Oh, that sucks. I’ve always been afraid of getting mastitis or thrush. Fortunately for me, I never got anything more than a clogged duct.

    I have no great ideas for you as I’ve never been there myself (thankfully, knock on wood) but I hope it gets better really soon.

  4. By tracey on August 14, 2009

    I’ve found that, just like childbirth, everyone’s experience with breastfeeding is different. I say this because I nursed 3 kids, had thrush and mastitis a few times and honeslty? It was never a big deal for me. (don’t throw your cabbage leaves at me!!) Call your DOCTOR. Call a lactation lady. Get some help. It shouldn’t be that painful that you can’t continue living.

    Also? Your tiny bambino is freakin cute.

  5. By Alias Mother on August 14, 2009

    If it’s mastitis, you should be on antibiotics.  You’ll know if you have a fever and Like, now.

    If it’s a clogged duct, which I had many, many, many of oh lord, there will be an agonizing, hard area of the breast.  The hot shower helps, but so does just slapping a hot compress on it as often as you can stand it and then massaging the area (yes, it hurts like hell.  Yes, it will help).

    And you take the baby to bed with you.  Get a stack of diapers, some snacks and a drink, climb on in and do nothing but lay around, sleep, read trashy magazines, and nurse as often as you can.  It will go away.

  6. By Elizabeth on August 14, 2009

    So lame.  I had it twice with Susannah, though )also for me) it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined.  Don’t try and deal on your own.  I’m sure you are on the mend now, but in case you are not… 1) make sure you get meds asap, and 2) nurse “around the clock” which sucks - I know!  But “around the clock” means… lay Charlotte on the bed and position yourself over her moving around above like a clock so that she can nurse from all different angles and drain you fully.  Totally awkward but works like a charm.  Trust me.

  7. By Allison on August 14, 2009

    UGH. I’m SO glad I never got mastitis while I was nursing my son. I lucked out, I think, as it seems like every woman I talked to has experienced it.

  8. By Laura on August 14, 2009

    I don’t know anything about breastfeeding because, well, I don’t breastfeed. I do know that I went to my regular doctor’s appointment and didn’t know I was in labor and was 8cm dilated. So I was right behind you at 8cm strolling into the hospital. My contractions didn’t hurt until I was a 9. Yeah… I was that girl.

  9. By Lauren on August 14, 2009

    Do you ever feel like you’re jinxing yourself when you talk about the joys of motherhood?  Whenever I boast that Eloise has slept 7 hours in a row, I feel I am punished the next night where it takes 4 hours just to get her to sleep and she only sleeps for 3 of them. 

    I really hope you don’t get mastitis again.

  10. By Lauren on August 14, 2009

    I haven’t gotten mastisis but something tells me that if I did I probably would have quiit BFing because I can’t tolerate pain AT ALL. Hang in there mama! You’re a booby rock star!

  11. By Sarah A. Schlothan Christensen on August 14, 2009

    Sorry, guys, I should have clarified that I am on the mend now.  I had a fever and chills and although the mastitis ony affected one breast, I drastically favored the other side at first.  And since that side had a scab on the nipple, the additional nursing on it caused Charlotte to suck off the scab and the open wound got infected.  That one resolved itself, though.  The doctor suggested lancing it after it filled with pus, which we did, and that was that.  Then he called in meds for the mastitis.  So everything is going much, MUCH better right now, it’s just a factor of me never ever wanting to experience it again.

  12. By on August 14, 2009

    I had mastitis in both breasts at the same time, a temperature of 104, Had just moved 800 miles away from friends and family and my husband in residency working 100 hours a week. Luckily, and probably the only way I survived is that I still had plenty of pain pills left from giving birth. That shit hurts. And the only relief is to do the most painful thing -feeding the baby- and you wonder if you’ll meet Eve in heaven so you can bitchslap that stupid woman and her penchant for apples.

  13. By Jana on August 14, 2009

    they told me to use cold cabbage….i dunno why gosh it worked leave me alone!  cut one in half use its natural cup formation and tuck it into your bra…cold is important….take it or leave it…I had masititis for only a couple of days….massage the hardest parts while baby is eating…its gonna suck…Im so sorry.

  14. By on August 14, 2009

    Brittany’s story is very similar to mine. Had my first child, 10 days later got in a minivan with husband and new baby and drove 24 hours to new home in Texas. Two days later I was in the ER with huge sore throbbing breasts and 104 fever. Got the new intern who looked at me and said “So what makes you think you have mastitis?“ WTF! Luckily I was too weak to knock him across the room. Finally after he was able to get the real doctor they gave me a shot of antibiotics and a prescription. I spent the next 24 hours in agony, and then it all just went away.
    With my second child I had a clogged duct that just wouldn’t clear. My OB told me that either I could wait and hope I didn’t get mastitis and possible abcess, or she could try to express it. I opted for option #2 - May I just say that I have never felt so much pain in my life. She even gave me a happy pill to calm me before she did it. It was excruciating, but it DID work. This is the stuff that should be in the books.

  15. By Sarah A. Schlothan Christensen on August 14, 2009

    Sue - That intern should die.  Like yours, my mastitis only lasted a short time - about 48 hours in my case - but it was so obvious what the problem was.  Stupid interns.

  16. By Jasmine on August 14, 2009

    Oi! That suuuucks. I never got it, though my friend did. She protected herself by eating ungoldy amounts of probiotics and soothing the feverish breast with frozen cabbage leaves. I am soooo sorry. I can imagine how bad it sucks!

  17. By bouncy on August 14, 2009

    Oh, mastitis! Grrr, you just made me grab my boobs in a painful memory! I had 104 fevers and my very hippy holistic midwife took one look at my delirious self and suggested antibiotics. A couple of days later I recovered but I was SO SCARED to relive that again because y’know one can have mastitis many, many times. Terrified.
    Luckily, so far so good and it has been almost a year.
    Get well soon!

  18. By Heidi on August 15, 2009

    Sarah, GO ON ANTIBIOTICS!!! ASAP! It will cure you in less than 24 hours. No more pain.

    I had a fever and was vomiting and shaking and about to pass out in the shower from it. The instant I went on antibiotics, gone. Within 5 hours, I felt 100% better. Good luck, sweetie. I so feel your pain. Again, another reason I didn’t like breastfeeding. WIth both my kids, I lasted no more than 2.5 months.

  19. By Joe @ IrrationalDad on August 15, 2009

    Cabbage leaves on your nipples = win.

    They say babies can smell their mother from 20 feet away (our experience says it’s more like 40, but who’s counting). So, when you do have the opportunity to nap, KEEP YOUR DISTANCE!

  20. By Brittany at Mommy Words on August 15, 2009

    So many times I could not count and I felt like death for all of them.  A real problem with hyperlactation.  I learned a lot and heated a lot of newborn diapers to slep on the boobs but always needed antibiotics.  I am so glad you are on the mend!

  21. By Trenches of Mommyhood on August 18, 2009

    You poor poor thing!  Nothing is worse than mastitis.  My boobs are tingling in sympathy.

    I had double mastitis with Baby and was burning up with a temp of 104. I was literally delirious.  Hubby had to bring the baby to me to nurse every 2-3 hours and it was all I could do to lift up my head.

    Feel better hon.

  22. By Rebecca on August 19, 2009

    Wow.  Sounds like you got a lot of great advice.  But OUCH.  I’ve only had so much as a blocked duct one time…but I also have struggled with my supply the whole time.  I guess having too much milk is more problematic than I thought!

  23. By Tabitha (From Single to Married) on August 25, 2009

    Wow.  Just wow.  I had no idea.  I’ll add this to my list of scary things I need to learn about in the next few months (and pray I never get).

  24. By Sarah Scheidler on August 31, 2009

    this seriously might be my ALL TIME favorite post… but maybe it’s cause I’ve been fighting MASTITIS off and on for 6 weeks… :)

  25. By Kim on September 24, 2010

    Oh my, laughing and crying about this old post. Just went through mastitis hell last week. Everything you said was so true. I’ve never cursed so loud having the baby latch on.

  26. By Courtney on March 12, 2011

    Hi!  Thank you so much for this.  I have mastitis right now…with a baby and a toddler.  Your post and this one ( http://theleakyboob.com/2010/10/the-red-eyed-breastfeeding-monster-mastitis/ ) finally made me feel like someone understood.  A childless friend actually said, “Are you still talking about your boob?“  I wanted to scream.  My hubbie is amazing, but seems to think I should be over it.  How long did yours last?  Mine has been here 3 days.


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