Nursing With Mastitis: My Painful Experience

by | May 29, 2017 | 0 comments

I had a relatively uneventful pregnancy. But once I gave birth, my breastfeeding experience was quite the opposite. It was extremely uncomfortable and almost unbearable. Nursing with mastitis was one of the most painful experiences I have ever encountered.

During pregnancy, I maybe had a day or two of morning sickness, plus a week here and there of heartburn or hip pain. But that was it really; nothing to write home about.  My breasts were the first to grow during my pregnancy.  I think I was about a month in when they had already doubled in size.

Nearly tripled in size.

I went from a B to an H in those nine months.  They were so large, heavy, and not to mention tender. My husband was pleased, but I was not.

I worked up until my inducement date, and I slept great the night before I had to head into the hospital. I slept so well in fact, that my husband had to wake me up to let me know that we had to head to the hospital.  My uneventful pregnancy ended there because my precious baby boy turned around on me and they had to do an emergency c-section.

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And so it begins: my experience nursing with mastitis.

The c-section didn’t concern me though because I loved my ob-gyn and trusted that he would take care of me.  It went very well except for the fact that I am allergic to practically every antibiotic, so they had to give me one that I had the least reaction to.

The result was that I was itchy all over, the pain medicine was making me sick to my stomach, and I was lethargic.  Then they handed me my baby and told me to try and feed him.  Nursing with mastitis was happening and I didn’t know it.

The pain has started.

This was my first child, so I wasn’t entirely sure on what I was doing, and it was SUPER painful. The lactation nurses weren’t exactly comforting, telling me that I had to continue to try or I would be causing harm to my son because he wasn’t getting the proper nutrition.  The last thing I needed was guilt. I needed support and some guidance! Why didn’t they think I could have been nursing with mastitis?

Since he wasn’t latching correctly, they ended up having to give me a little plastic “extended nipple” that I would place onto my own so that he would have a better chance of latching.  That somewhat worked, and he was able to get what he needed from me, so everyone was happy.

We went home a couple of days later, and I was so ready to give him away after the first night.  He didn’t sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time, and my husband thought he was being supportive by getting up with me every 45 minutes. However, it would have been more ideal had he slept through the night so he could take over in the morning so that I could get some rest.  My son and I never really found our groove with breastfeeding.  I was constantly in pain from nursing with mastitis, having cracked and bleeding nipples all the time, even with the extender.

I really dreaded feeding time. 

“Breast Click To Tweet

After about a week, which happened to be Easter, I decided to break out the breast pump and hooked myself up.  It was so much less painful, and I was putting out a decent amount every few hours and my son had no problem drinking from a bottle.  However, there was still so much blood even with pumping, that the milk looked like cranberry juice at times. I felt guilty about feeding it to my child.

I still breastfed when I was too tired to walk upstairs to pump, but it hurt like hell.  My breasts were so sore that I didn’t know what to do.  I had never been pregnant or breastfed before. I just assumed it was all part of the process to feel so full and sore that I just kept going.  Nursing with mastitis never crossed my mind at this point.

Temperature constantly changing.

To top it off, I also remember that I was constantly cold. Again, I didn’t think too much of it because I ran so hot while I was pregnant. I simply thought that I was just getting used to being cold again now that I wasn’t so huge. So I would pile on the layers of clothing but then would wake up drenched in sweat.

Every time someone offered to watch my son, I went and showered. I would turn up the heat as high as it would go and it felt so good on my tired and aching body.  Pumping right after the hot shower seemed to help.

Other methods.

The pain in my left breast though was particularly jarring, and I started looking up everything I could on what I could do to help ease the pain.  I read that it was probably just a clogged duct and it was very common. (Nursing with mastitis never showed up!) It said to try random things to help the duct unclog, like the “dangling” method. That’s where you lay your child on his back and hover above him to feed him. The gravity was supposed to help dislodge the clog.

I can’t begin to tell you how weird this felt to me, but hey, you got to do what you’ve got to do, right?  I put a warm washcloth on it while he was feeding, massaging it, or laying him in different ways to feed.  Ultimately I ended up pumping as my primary method, wondering how to turn the suction up higher. I thought the added pressure would undo the clog, but my breast pump didn’t have the stronger suction option.

The pain was too much.

The pain seemed typical with everything I was reading at the time, and not knowing what nursing with mastitis was like. So I just assumed I was being a baby about it.  Until one evening I was breastfeeding on my right side, and my son kept kicking the sore breast.  It took everything in me not to scream or launch my son across the room, because saying “hey buddy, stop kicking mommy, that hurts” to a 2 & a 1/2 week old was proving fruitless.  When my husband came home from work that night, I quickly passed my son to him and went to take a hot shower.  I called my ob-gyn’s office the next morning because the pain was just too much and my breast was looking pink.

My doctor was out that day, but I saw another doctor at his practice who looked at me and told me that I had to head to the hospital immediately.  Apparently, I was experiencing every single symptom of mastitis.  After all the research I had done, nursing with mastitis wasn’t something that had come up in my search.  So this came to a surprise to me.

woman showing her post-pregnancy stretch marks

Has your pregnancy ended and you’re now enjoying newborn bliss? Check out this article about how to also enjoy & love your new post-pregnancy body!

So what did I do?

I immediately googled it!

Nursing with mastitis symptoms from

● Fever of 101 or greater

● Flu-like symptoms – fever, fatigue, chills

● Redness of the breast, usually wedge-shaped

● Breast tenderness or warmth

● Pain or burning sensation while breastfeeding

When to call a doctor:

● Any combination of symptoms indicates that you need to see your doctor right away.

Yup, unfortunately I had all the symptoms for nursing with mastitis and was advised to go to the hospital immediately.  I called my husband at work, and he said he would meet me there, and my mom offered to watch my son.  They put me on the labor and delivery floor as they figured I would bring my son.

However, my husband insisted that I would heal much faster if I could get some rest.  It turns out that I had an extreme case of nursing with mastitis.  I felt like an animal at the zoo with all the nurses coming in to look at me.  Since they are on the labor and delivery floor, nursing with mastitis, (especially an extreme case such as mine), is not something they see often.

It turns out that it was so bad I had gotten an infection in my breast. They had to unclog the duct using only a suction tube and an ultrasound machine. This was too ensure they didn’t pierce anything they weren’t supposed to.

The procedure.   

They cut a hole in my breast and inserted the tube to drain the clogged duct.  Talk about gross.  They couldn’t give me much of anything regarding pain medication because they needed me coherent during the procedure. So I felt it all, and I have to say that it was so much worse than anything else I’d ever experienced.

I had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days. My ob-gyn informed me that I would most likely get mastitis again if I tried to continue to breastfeed my son or any future child. So he advised against any further nursing with mastitis at this time.  He also ensured me that my few weeks of breastfeeding was sufficient and no harm would come to my son by switching to formula.

But you have to love those lactation nurses who came in a few times every day to tell me that I would be doing my child a disservice if I stopped now…

Listen lady, I am hospitalized due to a complication from breastfeeding. I have been nursing with mastitis and my doctor is advising me against it. And you’re going to try and guilt me?  Are you kidding me right now?  I felt bad enough as it was; this was not the time to pile on.


Regrettably, I had to have a pic line inserted, which is essentially a portable IV line, due to my antibiotic allergy. There weren’t any oral antibiotics that I could safely take to tackle this infection.

So I had to give myself IV antibiotics twice a day for two weeks, and it was a 90-minute process.  When they told me what I had to do, I started to cry…. don’t you just love those pregnancy hormones?!

I just didn’t see how I was supposed to take care of my infant by myself during the day while giving myself IV antibiotics twice a day for 90-minutes each time.  In the end, it all worked out. My family and friends would come over and all too happily entertain my son for 90-minutes while I did my IV meds.

mother with brown hair and her newborn baby breastfeeding nursing with mastitis

It was not my favorite time of my life, but the pain was gone, so I wasn’t as miserable as I had been.  My problem was that I wasn’t listening to my body.  I was looking to Google for everything. And nursing with mastitis didn’t even show up in my results! The internet was telling me that it was a simple clogged duct. It happens to everyone and it’s not a big deal.

I am someone that has a high tolerance for pain and won’t usually complain until it gets to the point that I just can’t deal with it anymore. That was the case when I was nursing with mastitis.

That can be very dangerous. 

I should not have blown off the symptoms like the cold sweats, pain, and lethargy. I just simply thought they were part of the healing process from my c-section coupled with taking care of an infant on no sleep.  Had I talked to my doctor sooner, it probably wouldn’t have gotten so bad.

I wouldn’t wish the nursing with mastitis pain I felt or the experience I went through on anyone.  It was awful, but it made me realize that I need to listen to my body more.  When you have a baby, they are your focus. And as much pain as I was in, I was still more focused on my child than myself.

As bad as my nursing with mastitis was, it could have been so much worse. I am glad I finally caved in and called my doctor.  Had I continued to ignore it, my infection could have been passed along to my son.

The Takeaway

So to all the new mothers out there, make sure that you take care of yourself too! If not for yourself, take care so you can be there for your baby.

Have you experienced nursing with mastitis before? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Megan Salerno
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