Disclosure:: I am not a doctor. This post is just me, sharing my experiences as to what worked for me. Please reach out to your doctor as needed for your healthcare.
About a week after my daughter was born, I found myself awake late one night feeling like I’d been hit with a ton of bricks. My whole body was sore, my head hurt, and I just felt “icky”. My body had been going through a lot of changes since giving birth and exclusively pumping. What all seemed normal to me was actually the warning signs of what was to come. Not only did my whole body hurt, my left breast was so sore that I could barely stand it. I could barely sit up on my own and walked around holding my breast up with my hand to avoid any unnecessary movement. When I couldn’t hold my daughter up to burp her over my shoulder due to the pain of her little body pressed against my chest… like a lightning bolt, the term “mastitis” hit me square in the face.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue typically caused by a clogged milk duct that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness. It can also cause fever, chills, and body aches. I was so caught up in new baby craziness and sleep deprivation that I wasn’t paying attention to the cues my body was trying to give me. Other than hearing about mastitis over the years from only a handful of people brave enough to post about this issue on social media, I had no idea what I was dealing with.
My next question was “how do I get rid of this”? When this is caused by breastfeeding/pumping there are a few things you can try to get your milk flowing pain-free again. After some Google and Pinterest searches (I’m a millennial ya’ll, I always check online before calling the doctor in seemingly minor situations, lol!) I found a few remedies and tried them out.
- Feed, Feed, Feed (Or “pump, pump, pump” in my situation.)
Getting that milk flowing again is the only REAL way to get rid of the mastitis. You can also get an antibiotic from your doctor to really clear out the infection, but they are also going to tell you to nurse (depending on what antibiotic you are on) or to pump regularly to get things moving again. Despite this being considered an infection, it doesn’t affect your breastmilk, making it ok for baby to keep eating and growing.
- Hot Showers and Hand Expressing
It’s amazing what some hot water can do for the body when feeling under the weather. The warm water relaxes the muscles and loosens up the breast tissue, making it easier for the ducts to relax and release that trapped milk. Once you notice a softness in your breast, try hand expressing some of the milk to get things going before getting out of the shower and nursing/pumping. (My husband looked it up and explained to me how to do it through the shower curtain, but it’s pretty easy once you figure it out.)
- Combing (Yes, there is a comb involved. No, I’m not kidding.)
I know it sounds weird, but ladies this works! I had to steal my husbands fine tooth comb to do this, but it was so worth it. After really cleaning the brush (especially if you’re using one from around the house) lather up the comb and your breast with some body wash/shampoo and get combing. Find the clogged duct (it will likely feel like a hard lump) place the comb right above it and “comb” towards your nipple. Keeping doing this over and and over until you feel the duct softening or start to see milk releasing. Again, once you notice a decent milk flow, get out of the shower and nurse or pump.
- Massage (Unfortunately, not like the one you get at the spa ladies.)
Massage is a great technique that not only loosens up the clogged duct, but actually feels pretty good. Imagine how it feels when you’ve got a kink in your neck or knot in a back muscle. Same thing as a clogged duct. Massaging the area and softening those spots makes a world of difference in how things feel for you mama. You could also include your hubby or partner in this moment as well if you’re feeling up to some help in this department. I know for me my arms were also sore from the pain and would have gladly taken the help. However, our fussy baby with reflux and other child needed my husband more than I did, so it was a massage party of one for me.
- Shake it Out (Again, not kidding.)
This one sounded the least appealing to me when I read it, but actually holding my breast and gently shaking it felt great and helped soften the breast tissue up as well. The movement from shaking the breast actually stimulates the duct and helps soften up the swollen tissue. I know this one sounds weird, but it works. Plus, the baby will enjoy it’s handmade milk(shake) once you’re done, haha!
After a couple days of doing these things and pumping like a mad woman I was able to clear out my duct, started feeling much better, and still felt accomplished because I was still able to feed my baby (who happened to gain a whole pound the week this was going on) the whole time.
What I learned from this whole experience is that despite sleep deprivation, hunger, etc. – it is important to STAY ON YOUR NURSING/PUMPING ROUTINE because this was not fun. The only way to really make sure this doesn’t happen is to make sure you are emptying your breast consistently during feedings and pumping sessions. If you’re breastfeeding, try to hand express or pump after the baby is content to make sure you’ve emptied your breast. You can hang on to that milk and freeze it for a later time. Catching that extra hour or two of sleep may have made me feel better at the time, but I paid the price for it later on.
If you find yourself in this situation reach out for help from your spouse, a friend, or family member. Ask for them to come and sit with the baby while you take a nap during some free time (that isn’t your pumping time) or to simply be around so you can pump when you need to if you’re exclusively pumping. Having a support system in place during the early days of new parenthood are so important and can make or break your day at times. I hope this helps anyone that might be dealing with this issue or find yourself dealing with it in the future. Just know that it’s normal, it happens to the best of us, and most importantly “shake it out” if you need too.