My first mastitis episode was when baby was just 3 weeks old. It was 2012.
There was a moment in the night I felt the beginnings of a mastitis episode.
I had no idea what it was at the time.
I was tired, and figured I’d just slept with my arm across my boob too long. That still might have been why I had breast pain. Either way, it wasn't the end of the breast pain.
Over the next 12 hours, (yep…12 hours), I pushed through the intermittent, intense stabbing breast pain thinking…I don’t know what really. I figured it was just part of the breastfeeding gig.
I was tired but what new parent isn’t (insert shoulder shrug). I felt a bit "off" but I wasn't my priority so I pushed on.
But by 2pm that afternoon, something went all kinds of bad. I felt terrible. The pain & pressure in my breast was escalating & baby was sound asleep. I was desperate for him to wake to get this pressure to subside. That’s all I could think about, and that’s all I thought was wrong. I just thought it was engorgement. Clearly in hindsight it was more than that.
My body started to feel so weird with an all-over ache but early stages – it got plenty worse. The shower seemed like the place to be so in I went, and there I stayed for I don’t know how long. The hot water was lovely but I’d fainted, came around and couldn’t get up. What on earth was this?
What a mastitis episode can look like.
This was the beginnings of the next 6 days. A time where a fever spike at 39 day in, day out was normal. A complete lack of ability to look after myself let alone a 3 week old baby. My husband was a saint.
Antibiotics was the main treatment and I’d read to massage the mastitis.
But how? How long? How firm? How frequent?
Now I am an Osteopath, and I do massage for aches and pains but what do you do in this situation? Is it different? Is it the same as muscle massage? I didn’t know.
All I could manage was to sit on a plastic chair in the shower, wimpering at the pain of this breast. I had delivered this baby al naturale, no painkillers, no gas, and yet I would rate this pain I had in my breast, worse. Maybe it was the greater length of time I had this mastitis episode for that makes me think it’s worse than childbirth. The “intensity” of childbirth was only about 4 hours for me. This mastitis thing was breaking me for all intents and purposes. I was a wallowing mess, crying while ambling around my house, for it was experienced like a sledge-hammer jolt into my left breast with every step.
I did get some help from GP’s but no one seemed to have any advice other than rest and antibiotics. My internet search (and my husband’s) for info came up with page after page of symptoms, risk factors and then treatment options & prevention. They all pretty much looked the same. And with regard specifically to treatment, the list was:
- Cabbage leaves
- Heat/cold therapy
- Feed baby off that side first
But let’s get back to massage because that’s the bit that piques my interest these days given I’ve been treating mastitis for over 5 years in our local community in Melbourne, Australia.
If only I knew then what I know now.
Curiously, today I went and did a search to find out what do the sites say about mastitis massage? Here’s some examples (8th September 2020), as I clicked on the top 7 search responses in a google search of mastitis and looked for the info on mastitis massage:
- Massage the breast gently while your baby feeds
- Gently massage any breast lumps towards the nipple when feeding or expressing or when in the shower or bath.
- (nothing stated)
- Massage your breast gently during breastfeeding: Massage can help to drain any blocked ducts
- Massage your breast to release any blockages. Stroke from the lumpy area towards your nipple to help the milk flow.
- The application of heat for a few minutes before a feed, gentle massage of the affected area during feeding, and cold packs after a feed and between feeds for comfort
- Gently massage the lump towards the nipple.
Where’s the detail?
Women need the detail because in terms of body function, detail is where we solve the problem.
And that’s what we teach in clinic today. The "how" to massage mastitis
It was so clear while working with our breastfeeding clients that had mastitis challenges, that no one knew how to massage. And so many women were massaging so hard, like a muscle massage and the wrong way when you like at the goal of mastitis massage.
Basically, this needs to change which is a big driver in producing our online information, so women have a genuine resource to guide them.
Author: Katie Willy
Osteopath & Your Two Jugs Co-Founder
Elise Fuller & Katie Willy
Osteopaths & Your Two Jugs Co-Founders
Elise & Katie are Melbourne based osteopaths who have been actively treating breastfeeding women in clinic since 2015. During 2020 lockdown they launched their company Your Two Jugs to educate more women about how to treat their own breastfeeding conditions. Their online video based course, Boobology, is available now with heaps of education and hands on techniques to teach women the do’s & don’ts for mastitis, blocked ducts & engorgement. More recently, Your Two Jugs launched a full health care practitioner course, called The Boob Hero, to educate manual therapists on their contribution to supporting breastfeeding women with hands on care. Empowerment all starts with education, and the more support available for women, the better.