Three months in: I can now tentatively say that I’m finally getting into the swing of things with breastfeeding. To say that I had a rough start is an understatement – I kept whining to my husband that I wish I had a time machine to this past September to tell the naive and freshly postnatal me, “go see a lactation consultant NOW!” and that would solve all of my problems up until this point (his answer, bless his heart, was: “how do you know that I didn’t use a time machine to prevent something even more awful from happening?” Thank you, Doctor!).

In my most exhausted and downtrodden moments, I wanted to blame everything on the fact that I just didn’t feel the perfect, blissful outlook towards nursing my baby. I couldn’t understand that something ingrained into our evolutionary blueprint, something that animals (kangaroos and koalas!) do with natural instinct, would be so difficult for me. Everything I read said that I should be feeling this mystical connection that deepens my maternal love – but all I felt was anxiety and panic towards every last thing that I know is wrong. Each of the following lasted a few weeks, in chronological order:

  • Wouldn’t latch on – screaming and kicking all hours of the night.
  • Finally latched on – shallow and painful, ouch.
  • Wanted to nurse every hour for about 5 minutes each time. Ouch.
  • Developed a galactocele from a plugged duct which led to a case of mastitis that went undiagnosed until too late, and then an abscess. Extra-ouch.

I’m documenting the following, not because I like to re-live the ordeal, but because in my online research while going through the infection I found little to no anecdotal information from women who wrote about their entire experience, including their recovery. I’m hoping that what I went through will bring some peace of mind for someone else going through the similar issues, that I turned out OK!

The breast infection(s) very nearly drove me over the quitting line. When Max was about 4 weeks old, I felt a round, smooth lump towards my armpit in my left breast. It wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable at the time. Googling yielded that it may be a plugged duct – a week’s worth of hot showers, heat compresses, massages, and constant nursing (sometimes in weird, anti-gravity positions) yielded no change at all. In the following month, I saw three different doctors regarding the lump:

  1. My OB: “Doesn’t seem like mastitis since you have no fever. Keep doing what you’re doing, if it doesn’t go away in a week or so, we’ll order an ultrasound with a radiologist to see what’s going on.”
  2. Radiologist, after an ultrasound: “Looks like a galactocele. Could be from a plugged duct, we’re not actually sure. I wouldn’t worry about it, since you have no fever. Check back in a month if you want to do a needle aspiration to relieve some pressure from it.”
  3. Breast surgeon, 2 weeks later, when the area became hugely swollen and painful: “Why haven’t you started on antibiotics weeks ago? You have an abscess from mastitis, most likely from bacteria entering your system through cracked nipples, caused by your baby’s shallow latch. Yes, mastitis can develop without fever.”

I visited the breast surgeon for 4 appointments in 2 weeks, each time he stuck a needle in the abscess and drained pus from it (OUCH!!!). He advised that if the abscess continues to fester, I would need an Incision & Drainage procedure (a quick outpatient surgery, done under general anesthesia). I took a course of dicloxacillin which had to stop at day 5 as my whole body broke out in hives – I’d never been allergic to penicillin before that, guess I am now! – then finished off a course of clindamycin. All the while, the abscess surfaced above the skin, opened up like sores, and drained on its own. On my second-to-last visit to the surgeon, he said that “nature prevailed” with the help of antibiotics, and I wouldn’t need surgery after all. Another 2 weeks and lots of gauze and bandages later, the pus cleared, skin closed up where the abscess was, leaving a hard lump of scar tissue.

Max and I persevered through the whole ordeal. He doubled his birth weight in 2 months, and is now in the 90-percentile weight range at 3 months. He went from a skinny, fussy, gassy baby to a chubby and silly baby who just happens to be gassy. The clindamycin did give him some diarrhea, but he didn’t seem to mind. My supply is still pretty out of whack from the infection and antibiotics, plus Max is still figuring out his sleeping schedule (I did pick up a UniMom Mezzo manual breast pump from the K-Hit store at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, on sale for $12, it’s helped immensely with efficiently taking the edge off of engorgement). I did see a lactation consultant at about 8 weeks who helped with correcting Max’s latch so he’s no longer eating tiny, hourly meals – he now nurses every 2-3 hours. The breast surgeon and the baby’s pediatrician both agreed that if the latch had been corrected sooner, the galactocele/mastitis/abscess could had been avoided – but nothing’s for sure. Lesson learned: when in ANY doubt, seek help! Especially if it’s covered by insurance!

Next dragon to slay: sleep and naps. I’ve got some reading to do.