Mastitis can happen to anyone and is sometimes excruciatingly painful.
I lay in bed, realizing that I had finally succumbed. I had the flu Self-diagnosis made sense: Our child, who was 15 months old at the time, had contracted the billionth illness of the year through childcare, and was suffering from a high fever and chest-shaking chest pain. Meanwhile, flu cases were rising in England.
I spent a sleepless night shivering in bed for a moment, grinding my teeth aggressively, and then sweating in buckets the next. My body ached in the morning and I was so tired that I wasn’t sure I could get out of bed. Spoiler alert: I had to because, as we all know, toddlers don’t stop. Even when sick.
I took a covid test and it was negative. I spent the rest of the day trying to take care of my daughter and feeling like a ton of bricks had hit me. It meant back-to-back Hey Duggee and lots of reading—he’d bring the books and sit on me while I lay on the couch, so I didn’t have much of a say in the matter.
As the day went on, one of my breasts started to get a little sensitive, but I brushed it off. I had never had mastitis in over a year of breastfeeding, so I assumed I wouldn’t develop it now – the stories I heard about it were from people who had it within a few months of having a baby.
Plus, there were many times when my chest got a little sore from the blood filling, but I always managed to fix the problem at home.
The next day I still felt bad and noticed a red patch on one side of my sensitive chest and oh my god, the pain was next level. It had gone so far as to hurt touching and even wearing a bra. At this point, I strongly suspected that it wasn’t the flu that was causing my body aches, fatigue, and tremors, so I called the doctor’s office and managed to get an appointment that afternoon.
After a quick examination, my GP cries out how hot and red the area is, confirming that I have mastitis (where the breast becomes inflamed, usually as a result of an infection). This problem most often occurs in breastfeeding women when there is a buildup of milk in one of the breasts or when a blocked milk duct is not cleaned properly.
The pain can be extreme. Now I fully understand why Stacey Solomon once felt like her breasts were “on fire”.
The diagnosis was logical. For a few weeks I’ve been reducing my feeds to try to wean my daughter during the day so she’s only been feeding really weird at night.
Still, I was surprised that I hadn’t developed a problem earlier and that the pain was secondary to my flu symptoms – but I was used to that dull pain, perhaps caused by her breasts not being drained properly.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
Antibiotics were prescribed (first treatment for mastitis) and within a few days I felt like rain again – no chills, no chills and a very happy chest. I’ve had a few issues with clogged ducts since then but I’m no longer complaining. Whenever I felt a pain of tenderness, I took care of the problem immediately to prevent it from turning into mastitis again.
This usually means placing a warm wet washcloth on the sensitive area or taking a warm shower or bath. However, the NHS also recommends continuing to breastfeed, starting first with the sore breast to drain the accumulated milk; milking between feedings; and massaging the sensitive area of the breast.
It is important to note that mastitis can occur in anyone, even men. When not caused by a build-up of breast milk, it could be due to smoking, damage to the nipple, breast implants, having a weak immune system, or shaving/pulling the hair around the nipples.
If you experience flu-like symptoms and chest pain that does not go away after 24 hours, talk to your doctor. Don’t fight or dismiss it, because the sooner you treat it, the sooner you’ll get better.
And if you experience recurrent mastitis, it’s definitely worth talking to a midwife, healthcare provider or lactation specialist who can help you figure out why.
Help and Support:
You can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9:30am to 9:30pm daily)
Get breastfeeding support from La Leche League.