I’ve had brushes with mastitis before — a sore spot here or there that I could soothe away with warmth, showers, and strategic feeding — but this was a completely different monster. It set up shop in my left breast seemingly with no warning and went from bad to horrible before I could blink.
Let’s break it down a bit so that all mommas can avoid my pain, or if you can’t, will have a better idea how to start recovery.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so always, always, always call your OBGYN if you feel like you are developing mastitis.
What it is: Mastitis is when one of your ducts gets blocked via inflammation and turns into something akin to the Chickamauga dam. Not fun imagery, but there it is. This can be caused in many ways including, hygiene, tight or ill-fitting bras, transitioning to solids, or when you start weaning. I believe mine started as a result of my six-month-old’s love for butternut squash, which meant I needed to pump more and didn’t think about it. Now…now I am thinking about it.
Symptoms: I’m sure every mastitis issue is different, so these symptoms probably change according to the severity and person, but generally include pain, swelling, chills, fever, nausea, and fatigue.
In my case, almost instantaneously one evening, my left breast turned from a normal squishy mass to something about the size and pressure of a football. Looking back, I felt fatigued all day, but that was about my only warning. As soon as the swelling started, a feather touching it was uncomfortable, and the dropkick my five-year-old executed whilst showing me her latest gymnastics move on the bed nearly made me pass out.
The chills in my case are always the worst whenever I am sick. I start to shake from the bones out and it makes walking difficult as the violent shuddering tries to dislocate my knees and hips. Hopefully, you do not have such intense chills, but those are part and parcel of the oh-so-fun package. Fever is inevitable as with all infections and I was treated accordingly as mine ranged from 100-103F degrees. Nausea turned into full-on stomach-flu-like symptoms for me that lasted most of 24 hours.
What to do: I repeat, always call your OBGYN, and try not to wait as they have medicines that can get you back on track quickly. Waiting too long can lead to not-so-fun consequences for yourself and for your breastfeeding goals.
However, some at-home remedies to help you alleviate your symptoms include the following:
Rest: You will likely not be able to do much but rest if you have a full-blown episode, but even if you just have the start of mastitis, you need to take time to decompress and take care of yourself. Reach out to your spouse, family, and/or friends so you can have the time you need.
Heat: Find your favorite heating pad and live with it for the next few days. Also, take as many warm showers as you can. I know, what a sacrifice, right?
Massage: Whilst you are in the shower or throughout your day, try massaging the extremely painful mass…sounds fun…as gently as you can from the chest toward the nipple. I only managed to do this a little bit as I tended to want to pass out when I tried.
Feeding: Feed your little munchkin in all the cardinal directions as much as possible on the blocked side: football hold, cradle, and side-lying. For goodness sake, don’t forget to feed or pump from the non-affected side as well, so that you don’t develop mastitis in both breasts.
Cabbage: Cabbage? Yes, cabbage. No, we are not in an episode of The Avatar the Last Airbender, but yes, I’ve been told several times to take the green leafy part of the cabbage and to wrap the entire breast. Supposedly, the cabbage helps with inflammation, but it can also apparently affect milk production, so as always, check with your doctor first.
So, here I am, slowly getting back to normal after being hit by the mastitis semi-truck. All I can say — as I stand in the shower amidst the bits of chicken chunks I threw up the night before (#momlife #IguessIllcleanthatupwhenIcanbendagain), attempting to massage my breast and not cry, whilst trying to decide if a bokchoy is enough of a cabbage to work — is good luck and do everything your doctor says so you can heal quickly.