Mastitis & Yeast Infection while Breastfeeding

Ever heard of razor blade ducts? Ever felt what razor blade ducts are like? If you haven’t, count yourself very, very lucky. If you are one of the unlucky few… I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.

How it all started…

My breastfeeding journey started like most first-time mothers – eagerly. Perhaps I was a little over-eager, but I couldn’t wait to put my baby to my breast as soon as she was born. I had watched so many videos about “the crawl” and immediate skin-on-skin contact before she arrived, that I almost considered myself a pro before entering the delivery room. Little did I know that I would end up having to do a C-section after 17 hours of labor where I only dilated 2cm (baby was lodged in my pelvis, resulting in the cervix not opening). Due to this, I couldn’t have skin-on-skin with her, she couldn’t have her first crawl to my boob, and my husband ended up whipping his shirt off and putting her on his chest (we figured at least she was getting some skin contact, which was better than none – since I had to go under general anaesthetic for the doctor to close me up properly). I was only able to start breastfeeding her an hour after she was born.

It started out fine (let’s be honest, I had no idea what it was supposed to feel like for the first time – and it looked like she was latching well from the start, so I just went with it). The problem started with her unbelievably strong suck. That little thing was thirsty! Perhaps my colostrum was unusually thick so she had to suck extra hard to get it out, I’m not sure. But, what I do know is that the strong sucking resulted in cracked nipples and the rest went downhill from there.

A cracked nipple is what really gets the horrible ball rolling on all the other issues (at least for me). First of all, almost as soon as the crack starts forming a scab, you have to feed the baby on that side again which just opens it up again. Repeat, repeat, repeat… OUCH! Secondly, no matter how clean you try to keep it, bacteria will always find a way of entering the crack, and BOOM! Mastitis becomes your most searched topic on Google. Pair that with your first milk coming in with a force like a broken dam wall, and you have a recipe for complete and utter disaster.

Angry Boobs?

My one boob was twice the size of the other one, completely red and inflamed… It looked angry, no, furious with me. The pain made me want to faint every time the baby latched on. I was in tears at every feeding. What was weird though, was even though only one breast seemed to be affected by the mastitis, both were excruciatingly painful and sensitive when breastfeeding. My doctor immediately put me on antibiotics for two weeks, with the assurance that it won’t affect the baby’s milk. If you’ve read up about mastitis, you’ll know that you can’t stop breastfeeding or pumping, however much you want to in order to avoid the pain. Stopping cold-turkey would only make it worse, and could cause an abscess. So I resorted to pumping the affected side, and only feeding her directly on the unaffected boob. This meant that we also had to introduce the bottle (with pumped breast milk) a little sooner than I would have liked, but luckily she didn’t have an issue switching between bottle and boob). After two weeks, the mastitis was still not better, and I had to continue on the antibiotics for another 2 weeks.

Antibiotics can do a lot of harm

What do antibiotics really do inside your body? In a nutshell, they kill ALL bacteria – whether good or bad. Taking antibiotics increases the likelihood of an overgrowth of yeast, and that causes Thrush. Good bacteria is needed to fight off Thrush (Candida, otherwise also known as a yeast infection) and since you don’t have any (thanks to the antibiotics), it’s like the perfect storm. Keep in mind that yeast feeds on sugar, and breastmilk is nice and sweet…  Most women generally tend to get thrush in the vaginal area, but it decided to take up residence in my boobs, along with the mastitis… Like one little happy family. How’s THAT for a double whammy? An extremely painful double whammy is what it is.

Before you say “wait a minute, couldn’t you have taken something before the antibiotics to ensure that no yeast infection occurs?” – I did. But clearly not enough. After one month of antibiotics, I had to take a month’s supply of Diflucan (thrush medication) for the yeast infection. All of this while still breastfeeding and pumping.

I also tried all the other home remedies like putting cold cabbage leaves on my boobs (all it did was make me smell like stale chinese noodles), hot compresses (it made my boobs leak even more than they were already). Pumping helped a bit, because it wasn’t as painful as when the baby latched. I can’t say it was pain-free though. At that point, even the slightest touch or accidental bump would cause me to wince with pain. I was taking very strong ibuprofen twice daily, just to be able to make it through the day.

Powering through

If I’m being honest, the pain never really went away. Until she was 3 months old and I was forced to feed her on demand due to a very long trip to the USA where pumping and freezing milk would have been out of the question. Perhaps feeding her on demand was just what I needed, but at the beginning (when the mastitis first set in along with the yeast infection), there was absolutely no way I could feed her on the boob for as long as she wanted, whenever she cried. I wouldn’t have been able to bear it, and would probably have fainted from the pain.

Besides the physical pain of all of the above, there’s quite a fair amount of emotional pain as well. Here is this beautiful newborn baby girl whom I absolutely love and cherish, but I shudder every time she cries because I know I need to put her on the boob, and I know what pain I’m going to experience. It really takes its toll… I managed to make it to 6 months of breastfeeding, and was able to freeze enough for her to have one bottle of breastmilk a day for another month. I wish I could have breastfed for longer, and I do feel a certain amount of mom-guilt for not keeping it up longer, but I had to choose between painful and pain free. Some critics might say I was selfish in my decision, but at the end of the day it was MY decision and I stick with it. Being depressed, in pain and constantly on the verge of tears wasn’t doing my baby any good either.

Children are a sacrifice and a blessing in one fell swoop.  — anonymous