This is the face of mastitis. It’s sweaty, haggard and doesn’t have time for anything other than grimacing in misery (and taking a hall of fame selfie).
Wes is at that point in breastfeeding where everything in the world around him is incredibly captivating, and as a result he suckles for approximately five seconds and then whips his head around to see where all the racket is coming from . . . usually with my nipple still firmly clasped in his mouth (talk about ouch). We play this game for about 10 minutes or so until I get fed up with it and figure he is simply not hungry. FYI, this is the fast track to a gnarly case of inflamed boob (mastitis). And that is how this story begins.
On Tuesday afternoon I sat down for our late afternoon feeding, only this time it felt like 1,000 needles jabbing into my right breast as Wes latched on.
Great, I thought to myself, knowing the inevitable infection was beginning. I am the worst breastfeeder in the history of mankind. This is my second bout of mastitis with Wes!
The first instance happened around four weeks after I had given birth when I was so freakishly engorged I could have fed all of Micronesia if put up to it. I should have been pumping out the excess milk, but I was recovering from a c-section and didn’t want to mess up my body’s process of adjusting my milk supply. Since I had mastitis with Luke only once and knew the symptoms and feelings in its early stages, my midwife called in a prescription before it rampantly spread.
This second time with Wes wasn’t as smooth. By Tuesday night, my body shivered with the chills and my temperature rapidly increased. My joints ached, my head pounded, and I could barely find the strength to feed Wes lying down. After deliberating in my mind if I could simply nurse my mastitis away, I decided to go in to urgent care. It was 9:00 pm and being the saint that he is, Matt loaded the sleeping boys into the car and we were off to recovery . . . or so I thought.
I figured the urgent care would be a ghost town because weekday nights are boring and nobody could possibly be that ill to clog up the joint (that’s what weekends and full moons are for!). Upon my arrival, there were two sweet, old ladies patiently waiting and I thought I’d be in and out in a matter of 30 minutes. (Sidenote: do not EVER think you will be in and out of an urgent care facility in 30 minutes. You will only be feeding yourself lies that will end in frustration, tears and rage to all of those in your path.)
Fast forward TWO HOURS LATER.
In those 120 minutes, nine other people had checked in and eight of them had been taken back (I understand that people with more severe issues need to be treated first, but isn’t that what the ER is for? I mean, eight people? C’mon!), including a clown of a car salesman who cut multiple people in line and leisurely chatted with the rude receptionist for 10 minutes. Don’t worry, he got in his slimy car salesman pitch to bump himself to the front of the line and also finagled some sort of pathetic business transaction in the midst of it. You want to know what the receptionist said to the guy who had been snaked (with an obviously ill child with him)? “Oh, I am so sorry, sir, but we go by the honor system here.” Like hell you do! I was seething at this point and I am positive my face was turning a lovely shade of red. I couldn’t take it any longer and walked up to the desk.
“I’ve been waiting for two hours, and I need to go nurse my baby. I am in a lot of pain and don’t have time to sit around and wait. How much longer will it be?”
“Oh, well, as you can see it just got really slammed and there aren’t any open beds. We have one person ahead of you and then you are next,” she replied with the smarmiest, most fake smile I’d ever seen.
“Okay, well I am just going to leave then. I am in a lot of pain and don’t have time for this. And I need you to refund my copay.” Guess what? She didn’t care or even acknowledge me as a human being in pain that needed help. She quickly canceled it out, handed me over my voided receipt and sent me off with one of those wenchy smiles.
Here’s the moral of the urgent care story: act like you are dying. Seriously. If you have mastitis, tell them your nipples are oozing pus and blood and that you had a fever of 103 degrees earlier and you are hallucinating. If not, you might as well bring a sleeping bag and your baby along for the all-night stay in the lobby.
Anyway, I spent all day Wednesday in bed, sweating and fevering, and then finally got my act together to go see our family care doctor on Thursday. Sure enough, the mastitis was systemic at that point and I needed antibiotics. By the evening I felt tremendously better. I was going to live! Although my neck had a serious kink and I was sure I had meningitis at that point (that I had probably contracted from the bootlicking car salesman — I can be a bit of the hypochondriac, melodramatic type), my appetite returned, the fever subsided and I was on the mend.
Now that you’ve read that massively long anecdote about my journey with mastitis and my disdain for incompetent people, here are my tips for avoiding and dealing with mastitis:
- Make sure you completely empty each breast after feeding. If your baby is finicky, pump out the rest. The little bit of extra time it takes is worth it, trust me.
- In the event you have a blocked duct, keep nursing! if not healed and unplugged, these lead to mastitis. Take a hot shower, use a diaper filled with warm water as a hot compress on the affected area, and massage the blockage toward the nipple, both while nursing and not. If it hurts too much to nurse or it is not fully emptied, pump out the rest.
- If you have full blown mastitis (you will know it if you do), again, keep nursing! Of course you can pump if it is too painful, but the key is to keep the breast as empty as possible and to get the infection out of there. The general rule of thumb for seeing the doctor and getting an antibiotic is if you’ve had symptoms for 12-24 hours that are not getting better.
- Drink loads of water, get rest and eat nutritious food. This will prevent the onset of mastitis and help you recover more quickly.