Last Christmas, not only did my eldest daughter come down with pink eye but I was hit hard by mastitis. It was a holiday to remember, and by that I mean, a complete disaster. But until that dreaded day, I didn't know much about mastitis, let alone what the common mastitis symptoms were. Now, I can tell you that mastitis is so much more than having a painful boob. It completely wiped me out. So if you think you might be experiencing the early symptoms of mastitis, here's what you need to know.
In my case, we were just about to open Christmas presents when I started to get the chills. I kept putting on more layers — blankets, slippers, you name it, and I couldn't get warm. I was achy all over and needed to find a bed fast. It turns out that those symptoms are pretty standard. Some of the telltale signs of mastitis include fever, chill, and body aches, Erin Duncan, MD, MPH, in practice at Atlanta Gynecology & Obstetrics, tells Romper.
I thought I was just coming down with the flu, but when I saw, and felt, a red, tender triangle below my right nipple, I knew that something else was going on. According to Dr. Duncan, with mastitis there will be an "exquisitely tender area of the breast which is often red and swollen at that site."
There are a few other key differentiators between mastitis and the flu. "Flu is a respiratory virus. The flu usually has coughing, sneezing, or airway irritation as a prominent symptom. Mastitis does not impact the airway," explains Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC, a certified lactation counselor with Oasis Lactation Services.
As a breastfeeding mother, I had come across the fear-inducing word "mastitis" a few times, but I felt like I had dodged that bullet. I was in the final stretches of breastfeeding my second daughter when I got hit. I was left wondering, "Why now? On Christmas of all freaking days!" It turns out there are a few different causes. "Mastitis often begins with a clog in a milk duct. As milk backs up in the breast, inflammation increases. Eventually this inflammation can cause symptoms throughout the breast and sometimes the body," according to Spradlin.
My bout with mastitis coincided with a phase when my baby was wanting to bite my nipple, and that probably let in some bacteria. "Mastitis can also be caused when bacteria enters the breast via a wound on the nipple. This bacteria grows and multiplies in the breast and symptoms of infection are noticeable. Staphylococcus bacteria are often to blame for mastitis," explains Spradlin.
So, what should you do if you think you have mastitis? Take it from me, you'll want to act fast because symptoms can escalate quickly. "If you're running fevers, you need antibiotics. Call your ob-gyn and let them know your concerns. While you're waiting to see the healthcare provider, DON'T STOP BREASTFEEDING OR PUMPING! The infection will not hurt baby and baby can help you break the clogged duct by the strength of their latch!" advises Dr. Duncan.
Once I was on antibiotics, I did start feeling better fairly quickly. But I'm not going to lie, nursing through it all was painful, — sometimes excruciatingly so. That's where a lactation consultant comes in. "Go over your symptoms in detail and devise a wellness plan to help you take care of yourself and your baby while you heal," advises Spradlin.
If you've gone through something as painful as mastitis, you naturally want to prevent it from ever happening again. Unfortunately, once you've had mastitis you are more prone to getting it again, according to Dr. Duncan. Once there's a clogged duct, it can clog again. Therefore, the best thing you can do in the way of prevention, Dr. Duncan advises, is to empty both breasts every time you feed or pump.
In addition to good breastfeeding habits, you can work with a lactation consultant to incorporate other strategies that may help you avoid future infections. "It may be as simple as adding some lechitin (sunflower oil) to your daily vitamin regimen or switching the hold when putting baby to the breast," advises Dr. Duncan.
What's more, simple hand-washing can help reduce your mastitis risk, according to Spradlin. "Nipple ointments and butters can be contaminated by fingers dipping into the container and then the bacteria spread on the nipple," explains Spradlin.
If you think you may have mastitis, the most important thing is to seek treatment right away. Left untreated, mastitis can lead to much more serious health issues. "[The breast] can develop an abscess, which requires drainage and sometimes surgery. This can be scarring and could impact your ability to continue to breastfeed. Even scarier, if the infection were to get into the bloodstream, it could lead to sepsis, which could be life-threatening," explains Dr. Duncan.
It might seem like too much of a hassle to go in to see your doctor, but if you think you have mastitis, take care of yourself and take your symptoms seriously.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.