Got Milk? Breastfeeding Part 1.
I did not think I was the sort of person to give their boobs nicknames until I breastfed, but then each of them developed its own personality quirks and method of trying to kill me or my baby.
The gusher went after the baby. Newborns are small and weak. They need to feed often to get bigger and stronger. The gusher would, well
The milk came out too fast and would overwhelm my baby. She would splutter and cough and pull away, but the milk would not stop and would spray her in the face. She would get upset and not want to feed much because the whole experience kinda sucked. And, you know what, fair.
Danger boob came after me.
It blocked a lot. Did you know milk ducts can block? Because I did not before all this. Turns out they can, and one of my boobs is really, really good at it. Which was awful, because blocks in your ducts mean the milk just sits around. And you know what happens when milk sits around.
Bacteria likes milk that’s sitting around. If it gets into a lactating boob, you end up with mastitis, an infection of the breast.
Most people who get mastitis have it happen within the first few weeks of breastfeeding when the milk supply is working itself out and when the baby is learning to latch and suck properly and isn’t always strong enough to clear the breast.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The recommended way to clear blocked ducts is to apply heat and massage the area before and during feeds to get everything soft and flowing and then switch to cold after the feed to reduce inflammation and settle things back down.
That didn’t work for me.
I fell through the cracks in the system. My GP fought her hardest for me, but everyone who could help me kept going on leave and when they didn’t receptionists in the public health system refused to let me through the doors for appointments even when the specialist literally sat on the other side of the door waiting for me to show up for the appointment (true story). I kept up the heat packs and massage—but it rarely cleared my blocks. Someone recommended different feed positions. I tried the hell that is dangle feeding (DON’T) which damaged my nipples. Someone recommended rose geranium essential oils. Someone recommended baths. Someone recommended an electric toothbrush. Facebook’s targeted advertising tried to get me to buy ‘lactation massagers’ in ‘comfortable ergonomic shapes’ that looked like re-branded vibrators to me.
I don’t know how to express how exhausted I was. My life was a fugue state of massage, heat packs, feeding, cold packs, stress, repeat. There was nothing else.
Eventually, finally, I got ultrasound treatment from a wonderful physiotherapist who was not on leave, who made sure I was looked after and who had a wonderful receptionist who always made appointments as soon as possible and, you know, let me through the door. I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. I know ultrasound treatment for blocked ducts is still in the ‘eh, maybe it’ll work, I mean, can’t hurt’ stage of research. I have heard it definitely doesn’t work for some people. But it worked for me when nothing else did.
The blocks cleared. I did not get mastitis. My milk production settled down. My boobs stopped trying to murder us. My baby fed and put on weight.
And that was how it went for months.
When breastfeeding works, it is lovely. Your baby is peaceful and you are snuggling together. Also, it’s cheaper than formula and HELLA CONVENIENT. Baby hungry while you’re out and about? All good you packed a snack … in your bra. Baby struggling to nap? Bring out the boob. Fussing for no reason? Boob.
But just when I was starting to trust the system, it all fell to pieces again. Which didn’t look great from my perspective.
I don’t really know why it all went to hell. I suspect it was something to do with my baby’s teeth coming through—top lateral incisors before the central, giving some strong Count Dracula vibes—and changing her latch, resulting in both significant nipple trauma (therefore blood) and poor drainage.
The upshot was, I got mastitis.
The first two times weren’t great, but they weren’t too bad either. Both times, as soon as I realised I had a fever, I got antibiotics from a doctor and started improving.
The third time I got mastitis was different. For a start, it happened on a public holiday. All the doctor’s surgeries were closed, so I went into the ER feeling silly to be one of Those People who show up at the ER with a non-ER problem.
She was right.
When I got up that morning there had been a streak of red on my breast. This is a pretty standard mastitis thing. By the time the doctor in the ER did a physical exam a couple of hours later, 80% of my breast was boiled lobster red. I didn’t just have mastitis, it had somehow spread and become cellulitis too.
And I was SICK.
I was so cold I couldn’t bear it, so cold I must be dying, but when I asked the nurse if I could have extra blankets she said no. My temperature was, in fact, way too high. Instead she offered me an icepack.
Over the next week my skin was gruesome. If you’re feeling morbid and you want to google cellulitis to get a vibe for what this looked like, you need to look on the bad end of that scale, and then add a bit more imagination. It was not just RED RED RED but kind of stretched and shiny and almost see through. I got hectic blisters where my bra rubbed it. And it was actually worse than that, but I’m trying not to be too disgusting by talking about pus. Basically, imagine hell, then cram it into a boob. That’s what I was working with. The only positives were I did not develop an abscess or gangrene.
My GP got my hospital discharge notes and immediately called me to come in so she could check me over as well.
She looked at my breast and said
So she called the lactation specialist in to get a second opinion.
According to official medical guidelines, all changes to the breast due to mastitis should be back to normal after two weeks. But after two weeks, I still needed antibiotics because the infection hadn’t even properly cleared yet. I was sent to a breast specialist, who said
She saw me three times trying to get the infection to clear properly before admitting defeat and sending me to an infectious disease specialist, i.e., the local version of Dr House MD. He was a very intense fellow who said
He decided it was basically gone at that point and he would be shocked if there was any redness left after another day or two. Even though it had never been properly cultured for one reason or another (a milk culture was done but the bacteria dodged it by shifting to cellulitis before that), he didn’t see the point in worrying about that now as it was basically gone.
But he was wrong. There was redness left after another day. There was redness left after another week.
I ended up at the beginning in my GPs office again, and she put me back on the broad-spectrum antibiotics to finally kick it. We finally kicked it, but my breast never entirely went back to normal.
It was not sneaky cancer, at least.
Boobs: 2. Lucy: 0.
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