Breastfeeding my kids was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I struggled with low supply, a shallow latch, nursing strikes, and, especially in the beginning, extremely sore nipples. Things did get better, though. In fact, I honestly started to love breastfeeding. But then I got thrush, and it was one of the most uniquely painful experiences of my life. You see, there are things thrush actually feels like, not a single one of them are pleasant, and, unfortunately, I have experienced it all.
The pain of thrush is really hard to describe. According to BabyCenter, thrush symptoms in breastfeeding parents can include: "itchy, pink, red, shiny, or burning nipples (may be cracked)," and "deep, shooting breast pain during or after feedings." While I definitely experienced all of those signs, that description really doesn't do it justice. And I should know. Despite diligently using every prescribed and over-the-counter treatment my doctor recommended for both me and my baby, boiling my pump parts, bleaching my bras, and stripping his cloth diapers, my son and I got thrush three times during my last six weeks of my maternity leave.
The pain was indescribably bad — so bad that I was glad that I saved some pain meds from childbirth. My nipples bled. Then they scabbed over. Then, every time I nursed my son, they would crack or lose their scabs. They were so raw that I couldn't bear to wear a shirt or bra, and so itchy I felt like I had a bad case of hives. I ended up switching to pumping for a couple of days to give them a break, and, even then, I felt searing, shooting pain through my milk ducts when I pumped pink milk (from the blood). It was quite possibly the worst pain I've ever felt, and I had back labor.
Eventually, with some prescription treatments from my doctor and a custom-mixed nipple cream from the pharmacy, I finally got rid of thrush for good. But, until then, the lists of symptoms on websites and in breastfeeding books really didn't validate the pain I was in. So, in the name of solidarity, here's what thrush actually feels like:
My first symptom of thrush was actually itching nipples. It was like I had been attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes or had accidentally wore a bra made of poison ivy. It was like a vaginal yeast infection — persistent and unable to be relieved by scratching or rubbing — but in my breasts and nipples.
Roasting On A Fire
Then came the pain. They say that being burned is one of the worst pains imaginable, and having thrush felt like my nipples were literally on fire. It was a burning, searing pain that only got worse during and after feedings.
Have you ever stepped on broken glass and, as a result, had tiny shards embedded in your foot? Yeah, thrush is like that, only it's not your foot that's hurt, it's your freaking nipples. They literally felt like I had broken glass inside of them. My nipples bled. They bled, you guys. It was so disturbing and painful.
When I think about what thrush felt like, the image that always comes to mind is tiny piranhas, with razor sharp teeth, nibbling away at my nipples from the inside while my son latched on from the outside. An exquisite pain that sort of became numb after a while, until, that is, my son unlatched and air hit my raw nipples. Ouch.
Raw Meat Being Tenderized
My nipples were so raw that they never really got a chance to heal. They looked kinda like raw steak, or torn up like hamburger. I purchased every nipple cream on the market to sooth them, to no avail.
Lactating Battery Acid
As I nursed or pumped, the milk flowing through my ducts felt like battery acid. It's to describe, but it was liquid that irritated its way through my breasts, blistering my nipples on its way out. So, you know, nursing was about as fun as it sounds.
A Giant Blister
You know how it feels when you get a blister on your heel and it pops, leaving an open wound to rub against your sock or shoe, inevitably sticking to your sock and becoming reopened when you try to take it off? Yeah, thrush is just like that, but again, in this scenario your foot is a nipple and that sock stuck to your blister is a nursing bra.
Every time my son would breastfeed I felt like I was being poked repetitively with tiny needles, like getting a tattoo. Only, unlike a tattoo, there was no numbness or getting used to the pain.
Ripping Off A Wax Strip
So, yeah, every time I took off my bra I would rip off the scabs that had formed on my nipple. It was sort of like when you get waxed, and the wax is so hot it burns your skin and rips off more than just your unwanted hair. Except, again, the body part getting waxed is your nipple, and it happens 10-12 times a day.
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