Breastfeeding Stories - Breastfeeding Through Recurrent Mastitis
I did not think much about breastfeeding before my first son was born; I knew I had been breastfed as a child, and that my mum had wanted to feed my older sister but had been told by the hospital that she couldn't because she was too fair-skinned. (She was told her to take drugs to take away her milk, and that was the end of that!)
When people asked me, "How long are you planning to breastfeed?", I would say, "Oh, I don't know - perhaps four months". The culture here in Ireland is very pro-formula and anti-breastfeeding; it seems to be seen as "dirty" or somehow shameful - especially feeding beyond 6 months, and particularly in public.
So, after a 20 hour labour with pethidine and the stitch-up from hell (1 1/4 hours of stitching with a local anaesthetic that didn't work, and no epidural available because it was "out of hours" - women in that situation are not seen as a high priority for pain relief!) during which I screamed the whole time, my newborn baby son was not in the mood for feeding. He had also swallowed a lot of fluids during the birth and spent the first two days vomiting them up again.
Every time we tried to latch on, he screamed and refused the nipple. He did not latch on for three days, became jaundiced and was on the verge of being threatened with "The Bottle" - but we held out and on about day 4, when the milk had arrived with a vengeance, he latched on and fed for about half an hour. I hardly dared breathe in case he came off again and would not go back on, but he did, and he got better at it.
The midwives were extremely supportive but because my stitches became infected I had to stay in for 6 days. So I made use of the support while I was in the hospital. The engorgement was really painful but settled after a few weeks. I was not prepared for how painful breastfeeding would be; it felt like I was being stabbed with a kitchen knife whenever he latched on and I was on heavy painkillers just to cope.
I always fed lying down because I could not sit down (perineal carnage) which is great because you need the rest, and can both fall asleep afterwards.
I later found out that the pain was due to nipple thrush, caused by the antibiotics I was on. My baby also had thrush. To cut a very long story short... during the next 8 months I had 9 bouts of severe Group B Strep mastitis (high temperature, vomiting, toxic, extreme breast pain, swelling, hardness, purple areas, thick green pus instead of milk, very emotional, came on very suddenly) requiring me to be hospitalised on several occasions. The first bout occurred the day after my son would not latch on because he had wind. I did not realise so I persevered for 90 minutes and traumatised my nipple badly, allowing the entry of infection.
TOP TIP: If the baby won't latch on but has previously been doing fine (he was 3 months old) it's worth trying to burp him.
The doctors initially thought it was Staph Aureus causing the infection. (I had taken a milk (pus) sample to give to them for bacterial culture but they said they didn't need it as mastitis was always caused by S. Aureus - which it isn't) After about 5 or 6 bouts, the health professionals were telling me to give up breastfeeding, as it was taking it's toll on my health, but I was determined to continue. I was told on some occasions to stop because of the antibiotics I was on, but I rang the Drugs in Breastmilk helpline run by the BFN (Breastfeeding Network) and they told me I could still nurse with that particular drug, but that doctors were largely ill-informed and tended to err on what they would call "the safe side" ie to stop feeding and use formula!
I was also was supported by ringing the La Leche League helpline and the local Sure Start Breastfeeding Support Group (a big thank you to Laura and Bronagh, and the other girls in the group).
I would encourage breastfeeding mums out there to always research and challenge the advice you are given, especially if it involves giving up breastfeeding for illness or pharmaceutical reasons. What about the long term health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby - are they thinking of that? Yes, my baby son got a few extras in his milk for a few weeks, but I still believe that was better in the long run than giving up early.
When my baby was 8 months old I finally came off sick leave and returned to work full time. (I was still sick for another month - went back too early) and I was breastfeeding and really enjoying it. My son weaned at 17 months old when I was 3 months pregnant with my second son. The milk was dwindling and I was too tired to continue working and expressing full-time, breastfeeding and pregnant and very sick with morning sickness. He was also not that bothered, and would only take the occasional feed.
It was emotional stopping but I was glad to do it in our own time and not because of illness or someone else's opinion. I considered tandem nursing but felt that I could not do it this time, maybe next time.
My second baby boy arrived after a brilliant 2 1/2 hour labour, latched on immediately and has never looked back. At the moment he is putting on about a pound a week! (must be a growth spurt). He is now 7 weeks old and so far there has been no sign of mastitis! My nipples were only sore for a week this time and I didn't require any no antibiotics, nor did I get thrush.
People thought I was mad at the time to persevere but it was worth it, and they do say tough times build character!
I intend to feed this baby for about 18 months but I will see how it goes.
All the best girls! You can do it - your body is amazing.
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