When I first arrived home from the hospital with Emsley I was struggling with the whole concept of breastfeeding as well as the incredible amounts of pain that was associated with it, (see The Truth About Breastfeeding part one if you haven’t already read it). Within a few days of being home, a large, hard mass formed in my right breast and I soon learnt that I had developed a plugged duct. My right breast felt as though it was engorged again; hard and uncomfortable as well as extremely painful. A day after I noticed the lump, I also started to experience some minor flu like symptoms. I felt achy, sore and just “off”. I also didn’t have as much energy as I normally did. Despite feeling unusually yucky, I chalked it all up to the fact that I had just given birth, not realizing at that time that it was connected to the plugged duct.
At the recommendation of the public health nurse, I applied heat to my breast or submerged myself in a hot bath when I wasn’t breastfeeding. When I was breastfeeding I would attempt to vigorously massage the large lump. Given that these were the first days of being home, Emsley was still having difficulty with latching and required my assistance. I was also still in extreme amounts of pain from my initial experience of breastfeeding in the hospital. I used one of my hands to hold Emsley’s head, and my other one to hold my breast in her mouth which required me to obtain a third hand to massage the hard mass. Since I only had 2, in entered the husband. That poor man didn’t know what he had signed up for. Each time I breastfed I would have him push as hard as he could on the mass and massage it. It would hurt so much as he applied the pressure but almost in a good way, like when you have a kink in your neck that needs to be worked out. This pain provided relief. But when he would push on the lump, poor Emsley would receive an increased flow of milk in her mouth causing her to choke. This would then lead to her taking a break to catch her breath causing more pain for me as she would have to re-latch. The re-latching pain caused more tears to be shed as I continued to verbalize my distaste towards breastfeeding. I had already disliked every aspect of the experience thus far, but now a plugged duct was really the cherry on top to my breastfeeding sundae. I expressed my frustration as well as my desire to throw in the towel to my hubby frequently during those next few days. But with the help of him massaging the hard mass time and time again during each of her feedings on the affected side, we were able to nip that plugged duct in the bud. A few days later and I was feeling much better.
This leads us up to only a couple of weeks ago when my husband was preparing to go back to work after being home with us for 6 wonderful weeks. Not sure if the stress of that transition subconsciously contributed to my current state at that time but once again that bugger of a plugged duct reared its ugly head, forming in the same spot as it had previously. Apparently it is common to have it occur multiple times in the same spot. This time however I got hit like a brick wall. Within a matter of 8 hours I had a sore throat, was feverish, experiencing chills, sweating, and had full body aches. When I initially started feeling poor earlier that day I figured I was getting the flu bug as I hadn’t had a flu in long over a year. But by the time the evening approached and about 8 hours had passed, I quickly realized this was my old friend returning but this time with vengeance. I no longer had a plugged duct but instead had full on mastitis. Now I was truly cursing breastfeeding, no censoring for baby anymore. I was exhausted mentally and physically, anxious about my husband leaving me and now fully incapable of caring for myself, let alone a baby. I was crying, emotional, angry at breastfeeding and ready to give up yet again. How was this worth it? Everyone said it would get better, not worse. I was also cursing the timing of my good friend mastitis. He would show up right before my husband leaves me on my own to do this parenting thing all by myself.
Keep in mind I had been served all my needs on a silver platter during the past six weeks my hubby was home. I wasn’t sure I could even remember how to cook my own meals let alone deal with this and manage caring for our baby. The only thing I can equate to how awful I felt was when I got mono back in high school. You feel completely incapacitated. Out of complete desperation I ended up pulling the breast pump out of its box in hopes I could pump away my symptoms. I had sworn to my husband that he would never watch me pump as I figured we might never have a second baby if he saw that contraption strapped to me. But desperate times call for desperate measures and so he helped me strap myself in and turned on the machine to pump away. Someone got a little too trigger-happy though while managing the controls, which didn’t help my situation but did provide some laughter. Laughter is the best medicine, right? Wrong. Pumping is the best medicine. Being able to get all that milk out of me was the best thing I could do for myself. By the next day I still felt rough but the symptoms were more manageable. I slept a lot of the day away, drank a lot of fluids and provided the basic needs to my babe. Luckily she was a peach and napped most of that day which made my job as a mom a lot easier. By day two I was feeling much more capable but not fully like myself and I continued on with applying heat, massaging the lump (which I could do myself now) and pumping myself dry. This system seemed to work as by day 3 I was back to my old self again.
Once the mastitis cleared up I still had struggles with the affected breast. It appeared that the milk was no longer as tasty on that side as baby Ems didn’t seem as satisfied with it. The plugged duct also continued to form in between longer feeding times, particularly during the 6-8 hour night stretches which would then require more pumping and massaging in the early morning hours to relieve it. Emsley would also nurse much longer on the affected breast than the unaffected one. I am talking three to four times as long, resulting in feedings lasting up to an hour at a time. And although I kept cursing my experiences during these going-gets-tough moments, I would not trade them for the world. I am happy that I didn’t write this post right after this all occurred as the negative feelings were high (almost as high as my fever) and my worries related to adjusting to my hubby going back to work were apparent. But now that time has passed, it has allowed me to see things in a much more positive way.
At this point, I can say that I no longer hate breastfeeding which is a pretty big deal for me. Up until recently, I would dread it as the three hour mark approached and I would cringe when I heard her cry in that night; not because I was tired, which I was, but because I really didn’t want to have to get up to breastfeed.
Currently, Emsley is much better at latching and I no longer have pain during any of my feedings. I am also now able to be somewhat hands free while nursing. I know this is the case right away for some but it has been difficult for me so I am happy with that achievement! I am not sure if I ever will love breastfeeding as some say I will but I can now admit that it’s tolerable and pleasant in its own way. I am still very happy with the benefits associated with it for both my babe and I plan on continuing with it for now.