When Boobs Revolt: Mastitis

Disclaimer :: These are tips based on the author’s personal experience; please check with your doctor.

breastfeedingI don’t care what your stance is on breastfeeding and/or formula feeding. The truth is that at some point or another, regardless of how much you are in a rhythm, they both suck (ha – pun intended).

Yeah, I said it. Feeding your baby at times can be its own form of torture.

While pregnant with my daughter, I had absolutely no interest in breastfeeding but promised myself I would try it at least while I was on maternity leave because of the health benefits. I ended up LOVING it and kept it going for over a year . . . but it didn’t really love me back.

I had mastitis eight times during the course of 14 months. EIGHT times, y’all.

My first experience with this incredibly painful breast infection was when my daughter was six days old. Here’s how fun that was:

I started having mild flu-like symptoms mid-morning; once I started feeling worse and realized I was running a fever and probably had mastitis, I called my OBGYN’s office and left a message for the doctor on call. She told me to hang tight (BAD idea . . . more on that later), take some ibuprofen, and keep an eye on my temperature; if it got higher than 103, go to the emergency room.

The fever was relatively controllable all day, but that evening I felt awful. I went to bed early, shivering violently with chills from the fever. My husband took my temp one last time before I was going to try to sleep . . . and of course it was above the threshold, so off to the ER we went with our sweet baby in tow. (Did I mention it was January and was frigid outside? Super.)

Here’s where it gets really fun: Once I was formally diagnosed with mastitis, the ER doctor and nurses had no real idea about how to treat it. They knew I needed antibiotics, so they were prescribed and started immediately (what they gave me was wrong), and I was told not to nurse and to dump anything I pumped (wrong). As an added bonus, I was given some kind of steroid or antibiotic shot to kick-start the healing process. I don’t know what it was, but they didn’t stick it in the right place. I ended up with muscle atrophy and a giant dimple in my right hip/butt cheek area. (Because recovering from delivering a child isn’t sexy enough, right?)

So why am I telling you all of this? To spare you from the disaster that was my first go-round with mastitis. Each subsequent time I felt it coming on, I called my doctor and was put on antibiotics immediately. I was only down until the antibiotics kicked in and the fever broke. I usually felt fine other than the fiery-hot, sore boob (that part lasted roughly four to seven days).

After going through it so many times, I consider myself a bit of an expert* on the subject, and have some tips to share.

Know the symptoms (they come on quickly):

  • Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
  • Generally feeling ill (malaise)
  • Breast swelling
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Fever of 101 F or greater

As soon as you have symptoms, call your OBGYN. The sooner you can be put on an antibiotic, the better. There’s a good chance she or he will want to see you if you haven’t had it before, so get on it!
(There are also some natural remedies out there if your symptoms are mild enough; my cases were so bad that these were not an option, so I don’t have experience with those. If you’re into that kind of thing, talk to your doctor first!)

Keep nursing! This is the best thing you can do. Your baby can clear the milk–and therefore any blockage — out of your breast way better than a pump can, so even if it’s painful, do it. And if you can stand it, gently massage the sore area while baby is feeding on that side.

Empty the breast by pumping between feedings, and don’t forget to massage!

Take hot-as-you-can-stand-it showers and have the water spray directly on the sore spot. Massage and hand-express while you do that. It hurts like hell, but it makes a huge difference.

Cold cabbage leaves work wonders to relieve pain and redness. Just be careful not to over-use as they can also cause supply to drop. You’ll smell like cole slaw and feel ridiculous walking around with salad in your bra, but it’s worth it.

I was eventually referred to a breast specialist. After several tests (including a breast ultrasound done by a 20-something male . . . that was awesome), he told me that some women are just more prone to getting mastitis while others will never get it, and that I was just one of the lucky ones. Yay.

Mastitis is a serious issue that I’ve found not many moms know about. (I read on kellymom.com — a fantastic breastfeeding resource if you haven’t discovered it already — that only 20 percent of nursing mothers get it.) Please, please, please, take care of it as soon as possible.

Kelly has called Fort Worth home since April 2006 when she moved here to start her life with her then-fiance. Married for 8.5 years, they have a fiery, curly-headed three-year old daughter (January 2012) whose personality matches the size of her hair when she wakes up (BIG). Kelly is a full-time mom and wife and works at home as a freelance graphic/web/communications designer. In her kid-free time, she can be found crafting just about anything, unwinding with a glass of wine and a magazine, meeting girlfriends to catch up, or binge-watching TV shows on Netflix with her husband.


  1. Thanks for your experience. Been through it for 10 months now. I know the drill but it hurts everytime. Thinking of cutting back breastfeeding cause it just not feasible to be sick every week.


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