My Boob Betrayed Me…. Tales of Breastfeeding Woes

I wrote this post a few years back as part of my friend’s, Nurse Loves Farmer, The Breastfast Club. I had a request for it recently and decided to repost again here! 

When I was pregnant with Bryce I knew I wanted to accomplish two things. 1) To go longer without pain meds during the birth and 2) To kick breastfeeding’s ass! Number 1? Check! Number 2? Not so much, turns out in the beginning breastfeeding kicked my ass. Here is what I learned and some great tips so that you don’t have to go through what I did.

Breastfeeding MotherIt Sneaks Up On You

Everything started off great. Just some minor cracks. My left breast took a bit of a beating and Bryce had a hard time latching on that side in the beginning. I used a nipple shield on that side until it healed and reread the proper latching technique in Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book over and over while practicing until Bryce had that side perfectly. For some reason he was able to latch with no help at all on the right.

Side Note: I haven’t read it but Dr. Sears has also written The Breastfeeding Book. His chapters on breastfeeding have been awesome, so I can only imagine that this book would be helpful.

Then in the beginning of week three I started to notice that my left breast hurt. It hurt when he ate, when my milk let down, and even after he had eaten. I looked up information on clogged ducts and mastitis. I didn’t think I had a clogged duct, but the pain sounded similar to mastitis. However, no fever, warm skin, or redness. On Thursday I called my OB. It had gotten much worse, now the pain was radiating up to my armpit. The nurse I spoke to diagnosed Thrush, which is a yeast infection (Candida) which can exist in your breast and/or in the babies mouth or diaper area. I had heard of this, but had no idea what it was. Bryce did not exhibit any symptoms of thrush.

The nurse called in medicine for me and told me to call Bryce’s pediatrician to get him treated as well. It turns out your baby can have the yeast in their mouth but not have the symptoms. If they are carrying the yeast in their mouth it can prevent you from healing. You just keep passing it back and forth. My pediatrician first said she wouldn’t call it in over the phone and then upon me bringing him in would not prescribe the drops for Bryce since he was not showing symptoms. I pleaded with her, but she wouldn’t budge. I was not happy. As I suspected the anti-fungal medicine prescribed to me by my doctor didn’t get rid of it.

“Good” Medical Support Is Essential

As all of this is going on I noticed on Friday that I had a tender spot on my left breasts. By that evening it was red and warm and hurt like a son of a bitch. Yep, you guessed it, clogged duct. I worked on that thing like crazy! Warm compresses, pumping, started each nursing session on that side. Nothing was working and it was only getting worse. By Saturday just the pressure from my nursing camisole was killing me, and every time I had to feed Bryce I would end up in tears. I was searching all over the internet for suggestions. I was tweeting with lactation consultants and getting some wonderful tips. Thank you @NancyHoltzman!! One tip was to put the baby’s jaw on the side where the clogged duct was. For me that was upside down. And since I didn’t think it was a good idea to string Bryce up by his feet for a nursing session I laid him on the floor and dangled my boob over him upside down. You can imagine how that went. He nursed for about a minute or two and then I was exhausted from trying to hover in the exact same position without moving. **Since then I have learned that laying your baby on the bed helps ALOT!!** I also filled bowls with hot water and Epsom salts and soaked my boob in it for 15 minutes and then pumped. Nothing worked! And believe me, I tried everything!! The worst part was the clogged duct was directly behind my nipple. It was excruciating.

I kept an eye out for symptoms of mastitis like fever and flu like symptoms. Thank the Lord for small favors, none ever came. But my breast was definitely in bad shape. It was angry red and warm to the touch. And when I say red I mean beet red, and not just the clogged duct portion, the entire breast! So first thing Monday morning I called my OB and made an appointment. They called in antibiotics for me and scheduled me an appointment for Tuesday. I continued to work on unclogging while taking the antibiotics and just counted down the hours until my appointment.

When I finally was able to see one of the doctors in my practice she looked at it, felt around, and said that it was a clogged duct and to “just work really hard on it.” I explained, calmly but near tears, that I had been working on it for 4 days and it hadn’t improved one bit. She insisted that I just needed to keep working on it and to let the antibiotics work. If it wasn’t gone to come back in on Friday. I cried all the way home. Wednesday night I sat on the couch and sobbed, like ugly sobbed, through a feeding with Bryce and Eric had decided that enough was enough. He insisted I call first thing in the morning and go back to my doctor.

Eric was right, I called and luckily was able to see a different doctor. She took one look and diagnosed it as an abscess and sent me straight to see a breast specialist. They did an ultrasound and confirmed that I had an abscess in my left breast and that it was so large that they needed to drain it in the office and then I could either come back everyday for a week or they could leave a drain in and I could come back next week and get it removed. Obviously with two kids it would be impossible and exhausting to come in every day so they put a tube in my boob with a little plastic egg that I attached to my clothes and bandaged me up. The breast doctor was very accommodating about breastfeeding and made sure that everything they did would not prevent me from continuing to feed Bryce on that side. She also addressed the thrush issue. I needed a stronger anti-fungal medicine, which she mentioned is common. Apparently, thrush is commonly under medicated. The stronger dose, taken longer, would also address any issue with Bryce carrying it in his mouth as it would treat him through my breast milk to him, and she assured me it was safe for him.

After a week of having the drain in, my breast was dramatically improved. It still was tender and there was still a pretty sizable lump behind my nipple. I was afraid they were going to have to drain more but she explained that it was just swollen tissue and that it would eventually go away. And it did! After about 3 1/2 weeks of hell I was finally better! Whew!

Hindsight Is 20/20

After this was all said and done, I talked to the breast doctor about what all had happened and this is what I would have done differently. If things get really bad and your insurance allows it, go straight to see a breast doctor! I repeat, see a specialist!! OB’s are awesome, but this is not their specialty. The best way to tell a clogged duct from an abscess is to do an ultrasound,  and a breast specialist would have done this immediately. This would have saved me two days of pain and frustration and when you have a brand new baby to take care of this is huge!! If you have to see your OB then speak up, request an ultrasound to determine for sure that it is just a clogged duct.

Don’t Give Up!

The most amazing thing was that through all of this I continued to feed Bryce and here we are 5 months later and we are still going strong! I am almost positive, given all the frustration and bumps along the way, that if this had my first child I might have given up on breastfeeding. I was lucky to end up with an amazing breast specialist who knew exactly what was going on and fixed it as quickly as possible all the while supporting my wish to breastfeed. I also had the previous experience of knowing I could do it. I had fed Noah exclusively for 6 months and had increased my goal with Bryce to a year. Breastfeeding almost kicked my ass! Almost! But I survived to lactate another day.

Click here for some more stories from The Breastfast Club!