Motherflippin’ Mastitis

By Emily Holdaway of Raising Ziggy

There are few things lonelier than crying while feeding at 2am. Just you, your baby and a red, sore swollen boob that feels like someone’s sticking knives in it each time he latches on.

The first time I got mastitis it came out of nowhere. I had no idea what it was. I had heard of mastitis, sure, that was something cows got, but I hadn’t put two and two together when the symptoms began.

It started with a tenderness on the side of my breast. It was a bit warmer than usual, and it felt hard. I didn’t think anything of it, Ziggy was only 8 weeks old and my body had many tender parts, so what was another one. As the day went on, the tenderness got worse and I could feel a big lump on the side of my boob.

My nipples had always hurt when I fed Ziggy. Since the day he was born, every time he latched on my toes curled, and as soon as he was done I slathered a calming balm all over my nipples. I spent a lot of my time feeding him and trying not to cry.

But this was agony. Another level of pain. It felt like hot knives stabbing my nipple every time he latched, and the pain continued throughout the entire feed. Then I started to feel unwell. I was tired, chilled and just plain crappy. But by the time I thought to do anything about it, it was too late in the day for the doctors, so I took some Immunofort, a couple of painkillers, and went to bed.

Feeding Ziggy that night was painful. I cried and cried. It’s a horrible thing looking at your beautiful child and dreading having to feed them. When Ziggy latched on, sharp shooting pains would dart up my breast and the pain would take my breath away. I curled my toes, grabbed onto AJ’s hand, and cried. Cried and cried while Ziggy fed. I tried to cry silently, tears rolling down my face. I looked at AJ, out the window, at the wall, anywhere but at Ziggy. I didn’t want him seeing me so upset. I wondered if my tears salted my milk.

Photography: Capturing Life
Day one latch. Photography: Capturing Life

That was a rough night. Ziggy was up feeding often, and I didn’t want to keep waking up AJ. So I just sat there, in the dark, feeling sorry for myself. And I Facebooked.

Facebook is great when you’re up multiple times a night. Because, chances are, your mama friends are up too. And they are full of help, support and advice. They were quick to come to my rescue.
‘Get to a doctor straight away,’ they told me. ‘You’ve got mastitis.’ ‘Take lots of vitamin C and probiotics,’ they advised. ‘Massage, massage, feed feed feed,’ they said.
And they sympathised. They told me to hang in there, breathe through the pain.
‘You’re strong,’ they told me. ‘You can do this’.
I don’t know how I would have made it through that night without them.

The morning saw me head to the doctor and the health shop. I had my ammunition, it was time to wage war against this horrible affliction. Yeah right. I spent the day lying on the couch, too miserable to move, while AJ looked after Ziggy and brought him to me for feeding, then took him away again. I was so grateful for his support, just holding Ziggy to give him a boob was beyond me at that point. It was like having the flu. Not a cold, that people call a flu, but the legitimate, hit over the head with a bit of two by four, can’t get out of bed, chills and sweats, flu. With excruciating breast pain in both breasts. I was a mess.

A friend had suggested I get Ziggy checked for a tongue-tie. Tongue-ties can hinder a baby’s ability to suckle properly. An incorrect latch sometimes means the breast is not being drained properly during feeding. This can lead to a blocked duct, which in turn if not treated can lead to an infection and mastitis. Which is what I had, and bloody hell I did not want to ever get it again.

A tongue-tie was not something we had remotely considered. There was nothing wrong with his tongue. Was there? He could stick it out fine, and anyway, if there was something wrong, wouldn’t the midwife or doctor picked it up by now? He was 8 weeks old. It wouldn’t have gone undetected for this long would it?

I decided to see a Lactation Consultant anyway. I didn’t think that Ziggy’s latch was very good, as he seemed to take in just my nipple. And even before getting mastitis feeding was terribly painful.

Finding a Lactation Consultant at first proved to be difficult. I tried my midwife who recommended I call the Birth Centre. The Birth Centre advised me they used to have one, but that service had been discontinued. A different Birth Centre gave me the name and number of a lady who worked privately. I called her. She wouldn’t see Ziggy as he was over 6 weeks old. At this stage my stressed out emotions kicked in and my voice started wavering. She advised I try the hospital and gave me another number to ring.

I struck gold. The lady on the other phone said the magical words ‘Yes, we can help you’. I made an appointment for the next day, then I hung up the phone and cried.

The following day, still sore, still tired, and sporting a big fat cold sore that popped up overnight, I trudged my way into the Lactation Consultants’ office. The lady I met was lovely. She told me that while pain during breastfeeding is not uncommon, especially in the first few days, it shouldn’t still be hurting. Not at 8 weeks old. Not every feed. Something was going on and she wanted to help me figure out what it was.

‘Has anyone checked him for a tongue-tie?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I replied, ‘His tongue is fine, he can poke it out with no trouble.’

Well, as it turns out, a tongue-tie does not always hinder the baby’s ability to stick their tongue out, but instead to lift it up. She checked his mouth and sure enough, he had a short frenulum, or tongue tie, and he also had an upper lip tie, which meant he could not splay his upper lip up when feeding. My poor baby.
‘Oh hun,’ she said, ‘No wonder you are having troubles. We can do something about that, you don’t have to be in pain anymore.’

I started crying again. 8 weeks of pain and emotions came flooding out and I sat there and bawled. Finally, someone had listened to me. Finally, someone was able to help. My tears were of relief.

I called the dentist the minute I got home.
‘I need to get my baby’s tongue and lip tie fixed,’ I told them. ‘How soon can you see us?’

‘We can fit you in tomorrow,’ they replied.

Want to know what happens next? Read Part 2!


Emily Holdaway is a New Zealand parenting blogger gaining local recognition. She is a first time mum, sharing her journey to natural parenting through her entertaining and surprisingly open blog Raising Ziggy . Emily is an active volunteer of Waikato Baby Carriers, she attends La Leche meetings and also Kangatraining; supporting local businesses and offering advice and the benefits of these groups to other kiwi parents. In her spare time, you’ll find her in the garden with Ziggy and the chooks.

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