Breastfeeding for the first time is hard. At best you’ve got one hungry little newborn who just wants to feed, feed, feed and at worst you’ve got a battle on your hands of trying to get the baby to latch correctly and not hurt you or your nipples any more than is necessary.
I was incredibly fortunate that Baby G had a good latch straight from birth. It turned out that I had a fast let down and my milk came in within the first 48 hours. By all accounts, that was great! I recognise half the battle was won based purely on luck.
However, with a fast let down and full supply of milk and one hungry little baby very quickly came heavy engorgement followed by a dose of mastitis. If you don’t know what this is, you’re lucky. It’s an inflammation of the breast tissue and can be caused by a number of things (infection, milk not being drained properly etc.) You can read more about it here: http://www.babycenter.com/0_mastitis_251.bc
After giving birth, I went from being a humble 32B to a 36DD in the space of 3 days and I can tell you that the pain, not just from the raw nipples and constant feeding, was unreal. I had been SO excited towards the end of my pregnancy about being able to sleep on my stomach again…but no such luck. With those huge and solid boobs planted on top of my chest, I could barely roll over without hurting. They were solid as rocks. Lumps = not good.
Not only were they sore but they were HOT. And I don’t mean sexy. I mean seriously warm. I looked like a much less glamorous Pamela Anderson and couldn’t get comfortable or cool no matter what I did.
And then came the red patch on my lower left breast. This is the first proper warning sign of mastitis. Soon my temperature began to rise and I started to feel unwell. My midwife had warned me of the symptoms since I was a good candidate for mastitis (with my big milk supply) so I knew it was developing. I didn’t like the idea of taking drugs while I was breastfeeding, unsure of what it would mean for Baby G, so Mr G got a non-toxic pen and drew around the area on my breast to mark its size. We decided that I’d sleep on it and if it had gotten any bigger by the morning that I would get to the doctor and get some drugs. I hopped in the shower to hand express after she’d finished feeding to try empty out my milk and then went to bed and hoped for the best.
The next morning, I woke up sore and unwell and saw the redness had almost doubled in size so I knew I had to get to my doctor straight away. She prescribed me antibiotics that were safe for breastfeeding and told me to keep taking my painkillers to help with the pain. Luckily I was still taking the painkillers to help recover from birth, so the antibiotics were just another couple of pills to be popping.
I was surprised I had to take the drugs for 10 days though. It took about 3 days before the redness started to disappear but it wasn’t fully gone for about a week. I watched Baby G like a hawk, wondering if there was any change in her while I was taking the drugs, but she didn’t seem to be affected by it at all thankfully.
So the lesson here is: mastitis is a bitch. It’s sore and it’s exhausting and it can be really serious (sometimes leading to hospitalisation). If you think you’ve got it, get yourself to a doctor ASAP and get treated.
But, the good news is there are things you can do to help yourself. And it doesn’t last forever. It can take 3 weeks after delivery before your milk supply is regulated properly to match your newborn’s needs. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be emptier than others and a lot tougher to keep up. (Did you know newborns tend to feed more at night because that’s when the hormone prolactin is produced which helps your milk come in faster? Clever little babies!)
This is not an extensive list, just a list of the things that I found helpful. Hopefully it’ll be of some help for you to!
- Cold cabbage leaves. The dark green kind. If you buy some cabbage and put them in the fridge (towards the very back) they will be nice and cool. After every feed, or any time your breasts start to feel warm and full, reach for a leaf and place it over your breast. If you place it inside your bra it’ll help keep it in place. The cool touch of the leaf will help relieve the warmth and soreness and the cold also encourages the ducts to close which slows down your milk supply. (It doesn’t stop it, it slows it, which is a godsend for those of us who produce waaaaay too much to begin with). FULL DISCLOSURE: you will smell like Christmas dinner as the leaves heat up from the warmth of your skin. It’s not particularly nice, but it works. My midwife also told me there was no need to wash your breast or nipples before feeding again, but do what makes you comfortable.
- Learn how to make different positions work for you. This one is SO important. I never knew that certain positions helped drain certain areas of the breast* and I am so grateful to the midwife who taught me that (seriously, I must have seen 5 different midwives but only 1 told me about this!). If you position the baby’s lower lip/chin so it’s over the affected area (or even just your fullest area) then this will be the main part of the breast that the baby drinks from. This means the baby will get the most out of the feed but it also means the area will be drained and relieved quickly and you’ll feel so much better. Just look out for a really fast let down, when I get quite full, Baby G tends to splutter a lot because the milk just pours into her mouth.
- Cold face cloth as a compress. This is the same idea as the cabbage leaves but less smelly.
- Cool showers. The cool water running over your breast will be a relief, though the rest of your body may not thank you for it. Might help wake you up a bit though 😉
- Hand express. This one you need to be careful with because you don’t want to overstimulate the breast and trick it into thinking it needs to provide MORE milk. You just want to relieve the pressure building up a little or after a feed, drain the breast. Sometimes the baby doesn’t get it all out and this can lead to mastitis. Gentle rubbing motions from the outside in towards the nipple will help break up those lumps and move the milk along towards the nipple ready to be drawn out. TOP TIP: Don’t squeeze your nipples! They’re already having a hard enough time adjusting to your newborn’s needs. Gently pinch the area around the outside of your areola and this will push the milk out.
- HEAT! I know this contradicts the first few points but trust me, if you heat your breasts up with a hot water bottle (or warm face cloth) right before a feed it will open all your ducts and allow the baby to draw down the milk that bit easier and help them to properly drain them. (Finish the feed then with a cold compress to close the ducts down).
As a side note, I also found the Multi-Mam compresses a God send for helping heal my nipples during the whole establishing-breastfeeding routine. They’re pricey, but worth it. Keep them in the fridge too for added effect! http://www.multi-mam.com/multi-mam-compresses-more.html
*You can read more about breastfeeding positions here: http://www.babycenter.com/0_positions-and-tips-for-making-breastfeeding-work_8784.bc