Mastitis can occur in anyone and is sometimes excruciatingly painful.
I lay on the bed and realized that I had finally succumbed. I had the flu. The self-diagnosis made sense: Our 15-month-old daughter had contracted the billionth disease of the year from her in daycare and was suffering from a high fever and the kind of chesty cough that rattled her ribcage. Meanwhile, flu cases were on the rise in the UK.
I spent a sleepless night shivering in bed one moment, my teeth chattering aggressively and sweating pouring out the next. In the morning, my body ached and I was so tired that I wasn’t sure I could get out of bed. Spoiler alert: I had to do it because, as we all know, little kids don’t stop. Even when he’s sick.
I took a covid test and it came out negative. I spent the rest of the day trying to take care of my daughter while feeling like I was hit by a ton of bricks. It meant Hey Duggee back to back and a lot of reading: she would find books and sit on top of me while I was lying on the couch, so she didn’t really have much to say about it.
One of my breasts started to feel a little sensitive as the day progressed, but I cleaned it up. In over a year of breastfeeding I had never had mastitis so I assumed I would not develop it now; the stories I heard about this were always from those who experienced it in the few months after having babies.
Also, there were multiple times when my breasts were a bit sore due to engorgement, but I always managed to fix the problem at home.
The next day I was still feeling horrible and noticed my sensitive breast now had a red spot on one side and boy was the pain next level. It had progressed to the point where it hurt to touch or even put on a bra. At the time, I strongly suspected that it might not be the flu that was causing my body aches, fatigue, and chills after all, so I called the doctor’s office and managed to make an appointment for that afternoon.
After a quick exam, my GP exclaimed how hot and red the area was and confirmed that I had mastitis, where the breast becomes inflamed, usually the result of an infection. This problem occurs mainly in those who are breastfeeding when there is an accumulation of milk in one of the breasts or a blocked milk duct has not been cleared properly.
The pain can be extreme. I now fully understand why Stacey Solomon once described it as if her breasts were “on fire.”
The diagnosis made sense. I was cutting back for a few weeks to try to get my daughter off milk during the day, so she was really only taking a few feeds at night.
Still, I was surprised that I hadn’t developed a problem sooner, and that the pain had been secondary to flu symptoms, but maybe I had just gotten used to that dull ache that comes from not emptying your breasts properly.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
I was prescribed antibiotics (the gold standard treatment for mastitis) and within a few days I felt like the rain again: no chills, no tremors and a very happy chest. Since then, I have had a few issues with blocked ducts, but I am no longer complacent. Every time I have felt a twinge of sensitivity, I have treated the problem immediately to prevent it from turning into mastitis again.
This has often meant putting a warm damp washcloth on the sensitive area or taking a warm shower or bath. But the NHS also recommends continuing to breastfeed, starting on the sore breast first to empty any accumulated milk; expressing milk between feedings; and massaging the area of the breast where it is tender.
It is important to note that mastitis can occur in anyone, even men. When not caused by breast milk buildup, it can be caused by: smoking, nipple damage, breast implants, having a weak immune system, or shaving or plucking hair around the nipples.
If you experience flu-like symptoms and breast pain that does not go away after 24 hours, talk to your GP. Don’t fight or ignore it, as the sooner you treat it, the sooner you’ll feel better.
And if you’re experiencing recurring mastitis, it’s definitely worth talking to a midwife, health assistant or lactation specialist who can help you get to the bottom of why.
Help and support:
You can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9:30am to 9:30pm, every day)
Get breastfeeding support from La Leche League.