You’ve spent nine months going through all the “delightful” aches, pains, and hormones of pregnancy. You’ve survived labor and delivery, whatever that might have been like for you! And now you have this beautiful baby in your arms and you lean back in your hospital bed with a sigh of relief, the pain being mostly gone. Now it’s time for your milk to come in.
Many mothers might have an easy time of it as their milk comes in and baby starts to nurse. I, however, and others have experienced the unpleasantness of developing severe mastitis in breasts that are needed to feed our babies.
With my 3rd baby, my milk ducts became so clogged on Day 4 that my breasts physically became rock hard. I hand expressed, I pumped, but still nothing would come out. On top of the pain I was feeling, I came down with flu-like symptoms of body aches, a fever, and that overall “I want to die” sentiment! This is definitely not an experience a new mom wants to go through while recovering from giving birth.
I recently had my 4th baby and I wanted to avoid reliving the pain of mastitis again. By day 3, I could feel my milk starting to come in and the hardness begin settling in as well. After talking with my midwife and doing more research, I had a series of things to do to avoid the worst outcome.
Ice and Heat
Heat has always been my go-to when dealing with pain, but I tend to forget that ice needs to come first. Ice helps decrease inflammation, which is what needs to happen when your milk ducts are clogged.
Place a flexible source of ice on your breasts prior to nursing. You can also keep the ice on the breast that baby isn’t nursing on. This helped so much to relieve the pain of the actual feeding. Be sure to grab some “ice packs” from the hospital before you leave and they will get you through a few days. Or just use a bag of peas!
You can also fill a container of cold water and soak your breasts in it, one at a time. I found it to be extremely soothing for my inflamed breasts and it helped to decrease the swelling and draw the heat out.
I liked to use heat at night after the baby fed – I had a heating pad near my bed and just laid it across my chest.
What? you are probably asking, possibly incredulously. For swollen, painful, or milk duct-clogged breasts, cold cabbage leaves can help reduce the heat radiating from the breast. Simply line your bra with the cabbage leaves in between feedings and as the body warms the leaves, anti-inflammatory chemicals will be released. If you want to immediately utilize the heat, you can run a hot iron over the leaves or boil them for a few minutes prior to using.
I used this treatment method this time around and was so thankful that my mastitis didn’t get as bad as it had previously.
Don’t under-estimate the power of massage and particularly, when you massage the breasts. Many resources will advise massaging in the shower or bathtub. However, I discovered that massage proved to be most effective when used during a feeding. I know that might not be the most comfortable idea for you, but it truly made all the difference in the world.
Find someone you’re comfortable with – a mom, sister, or husband (dads can be more involved with breastfeeding than just in moments of crisis!). While baby latches on and starts to feed, have your person slowly massage in circular motions from the top of the breast and then down the side and underneath. The hard lumps of mastitis can collect on the outer side and underneath the breast, so be sure not to miss those areas. Massage down the breast towards the nipple, easing out those pea-sized lumps. You also need to massage the areola, the outer darker area of the nipple. This helps the nipple stay soft in order for baby to latch on and release some milk.
Again, this may not be comfortable for you to do but it is vital to keeping your milk ducts open. You will be extremely sore and possibly in tears (I sure was!) but it will keep the worst from happening – and I’ve experienced some bit of the worst in my breast feeding journeys.
Swollen, milk-repressed breasts are extremely painful, especially when it turns into mastitis. You just had a baby, in many cases, and your body is still recovering from that experience (and it will continue to do so over the next few weeks). The body aches that come with mastitis alone are enough to make you want to crawl into bed. Add the constant pain from your breasts, the pain of breastfeeding, and your recovery and it’s a struggle to get through the next few days.
Baths with Epsom salts and lavender essential oils helped ease the pain short-term. One taken before bedtime feeding helps ease the body aches, and you can soak your breasts prior to a feeding.
I came down with strep throat immediately after coming home from the hospital with baby #4. Not exactly ideal, as you can imagine! So I did turn to Ibuprofen as I was recovering from natural childbirth, working through the beginning stages of mastitis, and managing strep throat without antibiotics. That would help for a few hours at a time.
Staying hydrated was another important factor, which was challenging since simply swallowing was proving to be extremely difficult! Find a way you like your water – with ice, lemon, warm with added honey, etc. – and keep drinking!
What has been your personal story with mastitis? What remedies worked for you? I’d love to hear your story and advice in the comments below!