Sabrina is a Lifestyle, Parenting and Product Review Blogger. A Writer, Photographer, Reviewer, Home Cook, Crafter & Nature Enthusiast. You will find a bit of all those categories here on Severn Wishes Blog, Welcome to Sabrina's Lifestyle Blogging & Honest Reviews.
I truly believe that conditions like Endometriosis need to talked about, by the people who are living with it every day. Like I am. I was diagnosed eleven years after first getting unexplained symptoms and reoccurring problems. The average time frame for diagnosis is seven years, it is just too long.
Today in this post I am going to be talking about the ways in which I manage my own Endo symptoms and how I help myself be at my most well.
I last had surgery in 2016 including a bowel resection and my organs cut away from extensive Stage 4 Endo, I had an Endometrium mass the size of a tennis ball attached to my bowel, bladder and left ovary, the majority this Endo which was removed by my specialist. I had IVF in 2017 and gave birth to my son, naturally in 2018. Since then I have been Breastfeeding my son which has helped with some of my symptoms. They began returning with pain nine months after I gave birth and have continued to worsen.
Every person with Endometriosis is different and can have different symptoms and varying degrees of problems and pains.
Once I had given birth to my son and found out he had multiple food allergies, I made the decision to cut these items from my diet in order to keep breastfeeding him. This included going completely dairy free, no fresh eggs and no nuts. I was able to have a minimal amount of Soya Milk and Coconut based alternatives.
About nine months after I had given birth my menstrual cycle returned, as did my pains. They got progressively worse as the months went on. Despite breastfeeding still, and I also began noticing other symptoms returning too.
I was bloated such a lot which added to my discomfort, so I made the decision to also cut out white bread and have a 50/50 type instead, to also reduce my general Gluten intake by half, and to eat more high fibre foods. I eat less pasta now and more rice instead. As someone who eats cereal every morning and attempts to get a minimum of five fruit and vegetables a day, I felt I lived a fairly healthy diet and lifestyle.
I have noticed a vast improvement in my symptoms since doing all this, I generally have a lot less abdominal flare ups which are often like IBS symptoms. I tested this theory several times this summer with the reintroduction of both dairy and gluten over a twenty four hour time frame, and I paid for it the day after with both severe pain and other digestive issues. This proved all I needed to know, that I was better off not consuming these items. I find I can have things such as a small amount of dairy, like chocolate chips in a cookie, and this small amount makes very little difference. But if I were to eat a chocolate bar, eat pasta with a cream sauce or a cheese pizza for example, I would be poorly the next day.
I must stress that I do eat lots of fruit and vegetables, I drink at least 2.5 litres of water a day, and I do not drink any coffee, tea or alcohol. I only drink flat fizzy drinks and I consume very little else except for additional water based liquids or occasional fruit juice or smoothies.
Every person is different of course, but you should consider keeping a food diary and perhaps cutting out a few things, one by one over at least seven days to see if you have any improvement. I shall talk more about a diary later on.
Let us now take a look at the Cycle Symptoms of Endometriosis.
Symptoms Associated with Endometriosis.
There are many varied symptoms that Endo sufferers have to deal with (most are listed in the image above). And the pain levels that people can have will vary too. Because we are all different it is impossible to know the severity of ones pain against another. Pain levels should never be compared nor dismissed, and if you have a doctor do this to you and not take you seriously then you should get a different opinion.
I made my own Health Diary Planner where I put in what I have eaten and what symptoms I have, what cycle day I’m on and I can also note my pain levels. It’s important to do all this so that a specialist can look at the correlations between your lifestyle and diet and your symptoms. Check out the diagram above and match any symptoms that you have, check against your cycle day and your diet. Look at what changes you can make easily and see if they help. Something as simple as drinking more water and cutting out some gluten could help with bloating (usually associated with hormone changes) for example. See what you could do to help yourself feel better.
Food Versus Health Diary
A long time ago when I was first diagnosed, my specialist advised that I keep track of my ups and downs. I decided to do this but one better, by learning about my Cycle, my Pains, my Food and my Digestive patterns and also my other Endo symptoms.
Sometimes things can correlate and they become frequent enough for you to begin to understand why they are happening. For example, I get Ovulation Pain, and by keeping track of my cycle on an app, it gives me a rough estimate of when this might happen. I then make sure I have pain killers on hand if it is bad, and I ensure I eat more cleanly and avoid anything that would increase my pain such as consuming too much gluten.
I can advise anyone on an Endometriosis journey to keep track of their body to help them to understand what it is telling them. Please feel free to save my Grid above and use it to track your own symptoms.
Ways I Manage My Pain
Pain is something that I often choose to cope with until it starts to affect my day or affect the way I am caring for my son. Because I am breastfeeding I am limited to the amounts and types of medication that I can currently take. Usually two 500mg Paracetamol plus Caffeine every four hours like clockwork on my bad days. I can take Ibuprofen too, but I find if I have a bad stomach this actually makes me feel more unwell so avoid it at the current time.
So I do rely on a few alternatives too. Hot Water Bottles are favourable especially at night time. I also have elasticated waist pyjamas because any additional pressure on my abdomen makes me feel worse.
The most important thing when in pain is to be comfortable and to keep hydrated. Especially if your pain levels are at their worst during your period. I usually struggle to put on tight clothing during certain times in my cycle and have a lot of items in my wardrobe for practicality.
Thank you for reading this blog post today, I hope that you have found my thoughts beneficial and if you have any further questions you can search Endometriosis on my blog, or on a search engine, or just ask me directly, if I can help you then I will certainly try.
In coordination with Endometriosis Awareness month this March 2020 I am going to be telling my diagnosis story. I know I have talked about my Endo in many of my posts, but this is the real true and honest story of mine. I will also be sharing statistics, symptoms and other information, as well as giving links to the websites you might find useful to find more out about Endometriosis if you wish to.
Not only is this going to be emotional post, it is raw, and it could also be disturbing for others. I am choosing to share some pictures post surgery too. I will therefore by putting a Trigger Warning on this post, because I am showing pictures but also talking about things that may upset others.
Please don’t let this put you off reading it, I think people need to see what effect this horrible condition can have upon the body. The female body already endures so much, so to have to deal with this condition too, it is exhausting. I should know.
There was light at the end of the tunnel for me, so this post does end on a positive, but I do believe more people need to realise the repercussions of having this debilitating and incurable condition.
Please continue reading now as I tell my story of pain, loss and eventual diagnosis.
Endo and Me
I have a love hate relationship with my body. Sometimes I love that I have a fast metabolism, it keeps me slim and I’m generally quite fit and strong despite my thin frame and small bones… however the Endo side of me causes unimaginable pain at times. It’s a chronic and incurable illness that doesn’t just affect your period like so many ignorant and uneducated people might believe. It is so much more than that because a number of things that happen to you can have a real negative affect on your life as well as your body. Let’s start at the beginning for me. I first had issues with my body when I was around fifteen years of age. I began getting unusual pain that I had to take medication for. All you could get at that age was paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets which were 200mg a piece and trust me; they barely touched the sides of my pain. As I got older I began having more symptoms, I didn’t know back then they were to do with Endometriosis. Except that whenever I sat in front of a doctor they tried to tell me it was anything and everything but that, it was never even mentioned. When I was seventeen I lost weight suddenly and quickly, I was tested for Thyroid issues and even Cancer! All tests came back negative and I tried to just deal with my awful periods and pains. Doctors were reluctant to explore further, so I let it go. At 19 I was fed up with the ridiculously heavy flow I had every month and the fact that I had no regular cycle, it was so exhausting and an anxious time. So after some persuasion on my part, I went on to a contraceptive pill. Regulating my cycle was a bonus of the tablets, and for the first time in my life I could be social with confidence. By knowing when things would be occurring allowed me to be at home with my hot water bottle and tablets when I needed to be.
When I was 25 I came off all medication in the hope of starting a family. Little did I know that all the pill had done for years was masking other symptoms of my Endo. When I had been off it for just six months I had such pain that it began affecting my everyday life. I cancelled social time with friends and family, I ended up avoiding things that I usually enjoyed because I was worried about being unwell in front of people. This caused me to suffer with anxiety, and that never went away, it just got worse as years went by… and so did my pain.
When I failed to conceive for years I went to my doctor and had various tests, blood tests for Thyroid, Hormones and Vitamin Deficiency amongst them. Then when everything came back with no issues and my pains were so bad that they affected me daily, I began seeking more answers. Endometriosis or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome was just two conditions that female members of my blood line suffer with. I must have told this to over a dozen doctors over the years. There are correlations between female genes that are often ignored. It wasn’t until I finally conceived after three years of trying, and then I tragically miscarried, that I ended up in Accident and Emergency every four weeks when I got my period, and I began getting sussed on this…
When I lost my baby I blamed myself and it made me depressed. I was so unwell physically I just didn’t know to what extent just yet.
So to help my state of mind I kept a diary, what I ate, what I did daily, what my pains were and where, I kept track of my cycle down to the hour and tried to make sense of it all. I looked for answers online and anything that told me what it could possibly be. Going in and out of hospital with no answers was exhausting, and it was wasting so much time too.
One afternoon I had written out all of my symptoms and matched them to the condition Endometriosis. All I wanted was someone to take me seriously and try and attempt to diagnose me. Instead I was in hospital nine times over the course of eighteen months. I had one MRI, seven ultrasounds, I went on a drip three times due to dehydration, I was given antibiotics twice, I had examinations with five internal swabs checking for infections… Nothing came back with anything concrete. On an ultrasound they told me that I had had a cyst that had burst. That time I ended up almost passing out in the bathroom at home from the pains, I was vomiting and couldn’t keep anything down. A&E was the only option when I had so much blood loss and was so sick from pain that I became dehydrated and needed a drip.
When I was admitted during the period that came after I lost my first child it was clear that I was incredibly ill and needed help. I had doctors who wanted to take me to surgery to check my appendix and my bowel, but I kept telling them it was Gynaecological. After I had a complete meltdown and shouting because I was kept nil by mouth for three whole days while two doctors argued over what to do with me, a lovely doctor who was a cancer specialist offered to do a basic laparoscopy on me that evening, to simply look inside me and take some pictures, so I could be passed on to whichever department I needed to be. This was the turning point for me; it was the start of my actual diagnosis. Over thirteen years since my first unexplained pains had begun…
It was severe. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Endometriosis, with a mass the size of a Tennis Ball attaching my Left Ovary, Bladder, Bowel and Womb to each other. My organs were all pulled off to the left side of my body, which was contributing to other symptoms that I was having, including bloating, bowel pain and problems, pain when I had a full bladder and pain during intercourse. The pictures that were taken inside my body showed extensive Endometriosis, like a mesh of tissue, thick cobwebs and various sized pockets of blood. At this time I had been ill for a long time, and I had lost weight, I was a size 6 and I didn’t feel like me anymore. The pain was all I knew some days. Having a diagnosis was like a light bulb had been turned on in my darkened room…
I was lucky because there was an Endo Gynaecologist Specialist at my local hospital. After speaking with him he agreed to operate, to try and save my left ovary. I wanted to be a mother so badly and he understood this. We also agreed to check for reasons why I couldn’t carry a baby thus far, four years of trying and a miscarriage was an indication things weren’t right. And he wanted to find out if it was all down to this Endo and the position of my organs. He would also do the dye test on my Fallopian tubes while I was under to see if they were clear of Endo too.
So I was popped onto his waiting list for surgery twelve weeks later. Every day was hard during that time, it was a blur of medication and hot water bottles and I had to give up work and go off sick after trying and failing to do my shifts and ending up just collapsing. After dealing with the chronic pains during that time, having hardly any sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable and my constant anxiety and nausea… I finally went in for my surgery…
The day afterwards I felt like a new woman, this man and his team had literally given me my life back. It was bad, but they had fixed me for now… I had had the Endo mass and tissue removed, then my organs gently coaxed back into place, my tubes flushed, my bowel that was damaged had a resection, and my left ovary was carefully saved. I could feel that constant pressure was gone; there was no more dull pain in that area. In fact recovering from the surgical incisions wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the pain I had lived with every day for years. I stopped taking pain medications three days after I got home from my surgery, because I felt like I could deal with the pains I was getting, which were less than ten per cent than what I was used to. How mad is that?
The worst thing about the surgery for me was the gas, it fills every part of your body as it absorbs and fills the spaces between your organs, it can be very painful until it’s gone. I had to drink so much peppermint tea to help with the bloating! Below is my abdomen after surgery, you can see I’m swollen and bruised and you can see the three incision sites.
The worse thing about having Endo is that it has stolen friendships away from me, and it put strains on other relationships too. People don’t understand how you can look so “well” on the outside but feel incredibly ill on the inside. Pain is something your body gets used to but it is the fatigue that most people struggle to deal with. Sometimes I would visit family and I would be talking one minute and falling asleep the next. Even after my surgery, although I didn’t have the same pain levels as before, I was still keeping up with the feelings of being tired, and my periods were exactly the same.
Did you know that Endometriosis also causes a whole range of other issues? I had over half of these when I eventually got diagnosed. Most women get told they have painful periods and IBS. Most of us only have these things because we have Endo. Here is a great diagram that was shared on the social media Endo pages earlier this month outlining most of what women like me have to deal with, sometimes these are daily symptoms, some are infrequent but they still occur, often brought on by hormone changes and cycles.
Endo Warrior is a term I use often to describe myself, because some days it feels like a battle just to get through the day. I am extremely lucky because I got the time to recover from my surgery, both body and soul searching too. Then when I was ready I had to do IVF in order to have my son. He is my entire world and I would be lost without him. I look back at all that I’ve been through and I am proud that I never gave up, despite everything.
If you want something in life and you have to work harder to get it then it makes it all the more worthwhile. I overcame a needle phobia and dealt with my Endo pain during my IVF treatment. But I would do all of it again if I had to. Being a mother is one of the most incredible and rewarding things I have ever done.
I realise some women have too bad a diagnosis and never get the chance to be mothers because of this condition, and that makes me sad. I class myself as one of the lucky ones.
To anyone out there who is suffering, make your voice heard. I once said to a friend that “Living a life in pain is like letting pain decide your life for you” and I got to a point where I just couldn’t live like that anymore. If your pain is ruling your life, then perhaps it is time to do something about it. Find a Doctor willing to listen and willing to take you seriously. Keep a diary, show that to a specialist if you’re lucky enough to get referred quickly.
Endometriosis has cost me so much in my life already, and because there is no cure I deal with those uncertainties for my future every single day. I still class myself as one of the lucky ones, I still have all my organs at the moment, and I was able to carry and have my son. I love being a mum. I try not to let my pain get in the way of that. As my son gets older I will be able to explain why mummy cannot bend and play today, and I will come up with other things for us to do together on those, my bad days. But I know it won’t stop me from being the mother he deserves. Of that I will make sure.
Thank you for visiting Severn Wishes today. If you would like to leave a comment please do so, I hope that my words help even just one person to stand up for themselves, to explain to a doctor that you want answers, that you deserve to live a life without pain.Stay strong.
In my article I’m going to be talking about the different issues and infections I have had during my current journey, in order to raise awareness for other mothers who, like me, may have been unaware of the seriousness of them. And I will also be touching upon the isolation too, it’s such a stupid thing in modern times for it not to be accepted by everyone. It is however the most rewarding thing that I have ever chosen to do. At the end of the day breasts are part of a woman’s body in order to nurse children. I will discuss lots of things in these 4000+ words! So grab a cup of tea and a biscuit and brace yourself for honesty and facts…
Breastfeeding is Incredible but it is also Hard Work
Breastfeeding my son has been one of the most rewarding yet hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was a choice I made while I was pregnant and I wanted to persevere and give it my absolute best, with the aim of feeding him for at least six months if it was possible. But then when we hit that milestone and after that other milestones too, I just kept saying “I will now stop when baby no longer wants it”. Now we are at 15 months and still going, yay for us! The bond we have is amazing.
Don’t get me wrong, it certainly was not the easy way of feeding my baby and I think that women who do breastfeed give up a lot, and this should definitely be recognised a bit more. Let me start at the beginning and explain how and why I chose to carry on, in the face of pain, problems and less than four hours sleep for many a night. And why I’m still breastfeeding… right now in fact! While I type some of this story!
It had been an uphill battle to establish the breastfeeding and the routines to begin with. We were plagued with problems from the outset but because I was determined I continued on. Our son developed jaundice a day after birth which required a lengthy stay in hospital in an UV incubator and I breastfed or pumped every ninety minutes for the first two weeks of his life. Tough was an understatement, because my milk was still only just coming in when we realised our son had some problems. So I ended up with sore and cracked nipples from the constant feeding one way or another. The lack of sleep and the worry caused me to get rundown too. I remember filling myself with food and drinking litres of water at the beginning, it really did help get me through. And I have to thank the midwife team and breastfeeding coordinators at my local hospital too for their support and kindness.
When we eventually went home, to stay, our son was cluster feeding, we encouraged this to get him to gain some weight. It was incredibly hard, with sleep time being few and sitting down time a plenty, yet I wouldn’t change the bond it allowed for us to grow. So many hours were spent just gazing at one another; sleepy feeding at all hours and burping sessions too! We were doing so well, our little boy was slowly gaining weight and we had turned a corner. Family were also supportive and I carried my pregnancy pillow with me everywhere I went… Then one day as we started to feed I got pains, and these increased over the course of the day, and it turned out to be an infection that I knew nothing about. Let me tell you about Ductal Thrush.
Lots of doctors misdiagnose this ailment as Mastitis when in fact it’s Ductal Thrush. And if you get a misdiagnosis like I did with this, then you can actually make your infection so much worse! Let me explain a bit more about my run-ins with the dreaded Ductal Thrush and then I will show you a list of the symptoms and give you some facts!
My son was only seven weeks old when I got some bizarre pains as he latched on to feed. Previously my breasts had been engorged and that was painful, my nipples had been sore and cracked and they had also been painful, but this was different. It felt as though my son was drawing my milk out through the nipple, and as usual you can feel that gentle pull, except this time it was as though my nipple was being shredded from the inside out by glass shards. Yes… glass shards. It’s the best way I have of describing it, and it’s incredibly painful. At times during my experience with Ductal Thrush I would even say it hurt me more than the contractions of labour.
Now I’m pretty good with pain, I had my son naturally on just a little gas and air, and even my midwife took that off me almost ninety minutes before he was born to get me to focus more… so when I was tearing up and gritting my teeth through baby latching I knew something was not right. My son and I had such a bond already, but he was feeding frequently, usually fourteen to fifteen times in every twenty four hours. The pain of Ductal Thrush lasts for around a minute or two into the feed, and then different pains occur after baby has fed and you have your milk let down. That pain is a dull ache felt right in the depths of the breast tissue, mine was so deep it radiated around my back under my armpit.
I managed to get in at my GP quickly, the next day in fact. But I had hardly any sleep because of the pain during and between feeds that I was exhausted when I got there. The doctor took a look and listened to my symptoms before telling me that it was Mastitis. Having read about this condition and also having been given leaflets on it in hospital because it’s quite common in new breastfeeding mum’s, I just didn’t think he was correct. I went home with a box of antibiotics, and despite my reservations I took them for four days. The GP said that after forty eight hours I should begin to feel better and that the pain would get better. In fact by the fourth day the pain had almost doubled and I was crying my way through every single feeds. I was biting down on one of the baby teething rings we had bought for him just to get through the initial latch, and if he let go and had to start all over again I would literally be sobbing it was terrible.
After this night of debilitating pain I decided to call the breastfeeding coordinator number that I had been given, and they gave me some advice. They also sent a member of the breastfeeding team to my house to check me over when I described what a time I was experiencing. They checked to make sure baby was latching properly, and once I had told them about the pain they instantly knew it was Ductal Thrush and not Mastitis. I remember exactly how the conversation went, and how exhausted I felt. She also looked inside my son’s mouth because you can often see the thrush in baby’s throats and on their tongue. I wasn’t aware of this until I was told, but it’s white and often sticks to babies tongue and gums, and it was evident towards the back of my little ones mouth.
“You need to go back to your GP with this new information, and you need to stop taking those antibiotics because that type is feeding the infection not helping to get rid of if”.
I was devastated, it was now worse because of the misdiagnosis and my son was suffering too, I had to phone the GP up and ask to see them again. When I told him what the breastfeeding team had said he needed to look it up on his computer and find out what he needed to prescribe me instead. Not only did we require tablets but we also needed a nipple cream for me and a gel for my son for his mouth. They weren’t an everyday antibiotic, and my local pharmacy required a minimum of twenty four hours in order to get them in. So I waited, my husband picked up the prescription for me the following afternoon, and it was three days for them to enter my system and begin working.
During all of this time I continued feeding through the excruciating pain, and my poor son kept looking up at me wondering why I was so upset, his mind must have been so confused at the time, since I had always enjoyed our feeds and bonding since getting over the initial first pains and soreness that comes with new mothers feeding. Now he saw it as something that was upsetting me so I tried to not show him how hurt I was feeling and tried to smile down at him for reassurance.
But I was now in pain for minutes at every single feed, and this continued for a further week before it finally began to improve. It was tedious, I had to apply this fungal cream after each feed but remove some of it if it hadn’t been absorbed into the skin when he next wanted to feed. I also had to rub the gel onto his gums after each feed was over. I also had Lanolin for my nipples which were so sore from all the contact. But the antibiotics were finally starting to work, and I had a two week dosage of tablets which I thought was fine. It wasn’t. Due to it being so bad and embedded so far into my breast tissues I had to return to the GP and get a further repeat prescription of it. In total I was medicated for a whole six weeks, and it was a concern with my son being so young and the medication passing on to him.
For me Ductal Thrush at times was more painful than giving birth, and any mother who has had a severe case of it like I did will no doubt back me up. I’m not exaggerating with the pulling your milk through shards of glass description, or the burning sensation that radiates through your entire chest and into your tissue and muscles well into your back. I look back now and it’s a bit of a blur, I wonder how I even got through those weeks, but I did. I remember having to bite down on that teether at our three o’clock feed to stop my crying waking up the neighbours.
The GP even sent me to the hospital during my second dose of antibiotics to have an ultrasound scan on my breast tissues, to make sure nothing else was going on, luckily there was not and I was able to return to feeding my son. Although this was not before I was asked if I wanted to stop feeding him. When the thrush reoccurred without the tablets, well it never really left thinking back on it now, it was just starting to improve when I ran out of medication that first time and therefore it flared up again. But I recall telling every member of the health department that I came across, “No, I have worked too hard to establish feeding I want to continue”. I knew that I could beat this and carry on, not just for my son but for my sake as well.
As a sufferer of Endometriosis, I’m currently at Stage Four, so it was more beneficial to me to continue breastfeeding as long as was possible. When I explained the benefits most people could see why I wanted to maintain the feeds. But it was important to me because of how much I had already been through to even get to this stage of breastfeeding. For those few weeks that were debilitating and exhausting it felt never ending, but then we turned a corner, I woke one morning and the pain was there but bearable. I didn’t see the Ductal Thrush again, and if I never do again it would be all too soon. It affected the supply in my right breast, so much so that the left side became dominant and grew to almost double the size. I live with the constant lopsided reminder of how infection can really change your body. But I am a stronger breastfeeding mother because of what I have been through.
So many mothers are misdiagnosed with Ductal Thrush and it can have implications as well as creating painful feeding. Please speak to your local breastfeeding team if you are at all concerned that your GP might not be fully understanding to your needs. Get them to check inside your baby’s mouth because this is also an indication of where thrush lies. As a mother who has chosen to breastfeed you should be made aware of what Ductal Thrush and Mastitis are, so that you can make an informed decision if you should contract either of them.
Let us now go through the differences between the two of them. Ductal Thrush occurs when an infection grows among the breast tissues and is usually spread and passed from mother to baby and back again. Thrush can be an infection that occurs on several different parts of the body. Evidence of it in the breast can sometimes be seen on and around the nipple, or within baby’s mouth. Baby needs to be treated at the same time as the mother and it usually affects both of the breasts, but usually one side more than the other. Mastitis occurs in the breast when the ducts of tissue become blocked, it is usually associated with engorgement or when your baby is not feeding effectively and draining every part of the breast. Mastitis is accompanied with red, swollen and hot skin, then pain and redness that expands. Both of these conditions are serious, Mastitis more so due to the nature of the infection.
As explained on the NHS website, here are some more facts about Mastitis as a condition.
Mastitis only usually affects one breast and women feel unwell. Symptoms develop quickly and can include a red, swollen and painful area of the breast. Usually there is a lump or hard area to the breast tissue that doesn’t go after feeding baby. There can be burning pains associated with feeding your baby or occurring continuously. Discharge from the nipple is common including white or blood streaked. Flu-like symptoms are the normal experience for people with this infection, aches and pains, fatigue, going hot and cold, running a temperature and a having a fever.
Mastitis in breastfeeding women is known as Milk Stasis, it is caused by a build-up of milk that has not been drained properly. This occurs when the baby hasn’t got a good enough latch, there is an abundance of milk and baby isn’t feeding effectively or when the baby is feeding infrequently or misses a feed. It is an infection most common in the first twelve weeks of breastfeeding; however it can occur at any time for breastfeeding mothers who have a change in their usual routine for example. Mastitis occurs when the build-up of breast milk that has become blocked becomes infected with bacteria. If the bacteria are not treated quickly then the milk can turn into pus in the form of a breast abscess which may then need to be surgically drained.
Luckily Mastitis is easily treatable with antibiotics and rest. As with any infection you need to rest and hydrate, as well as eat healthily and take the tablets you are prescribed. Pain medicine such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen can be taken on the advice of your Doctor. Avoid tight fitting clothes and no bra if you think you may have Mastitis and while you are recovering. You must continue to breastfeed so as to remove any milk from the breast and avoid any further infections.
Is it important to remember that Mastitis can be a serious infection, and if you believe you may have it you need to see a Doctor as soon as possible. When infections spread it is more difficult to treat them and undiagnosed infections can lead to problems like Abscess’ or even Sepsis (Blood Poisoning). If in doubt see your GP and don’t be embarrassed about seeking help for something like this.
My Experience with Mastitis
I think I was in denial when I had Mastitis. I kept thinking, just one more painful feed and then it will be better, but this went on for weeks until I finally walked a mile and a half to the doctors on a really hot day because I could literally take it no more. I had a sore nipple after my son had accidentally bitten me with a fresh tooth he was cutting, and as he breast fed the sore kept reopening as a wound and became rather painful. This is what I attributed my pains to, and it wasn’t until I woke with an adjacent lump and red patch on my skin that I thought it was something more.
As I sat down to be examined with the doctor a chaperone was there too, and she was watching my son who was getting flustered at the sight of somebody other than him touching my breast, ha! Within seconds of looking at me he concluded it was Mastitis and told me I needed to start antibiotics immediately, I was told off for not coming in sooner. He told me to go to the pharmacy across the road and then go home and rest. He advised me to up my fluid intake, take paracetamol and stay warm. He even told me that if the redness spread any further across my chest to phone 111 and get admitted for IV antibiotics. It was quite scary…
My son was so flustered I had to breastfeed him in the Doctor’s surgery
waiting room before I left the premises. That’s one thing people don’t realise
about Mastitis, you actually have to keep on feeding despite the pain. Allowing
the Breast to become engorged again would be dangerous and could further spread
So once my son was done I managed to get him back into his pushchair and I
did what the Doctor said, I got my tablets, then I grabbed myself some Pepsi
Max and Chilled Water from the convenience store next to the pharmacy too, it
was so hot that day. Walking home afterwards I was getting more and more
Once home I didn’t get the chance to rest, I took my medication then I fed
my son both food and my milk. By the time I was sitting down to breastfeed I
realised how hungry I was, but upon reading the antibiotic packet I saw it read
no food for two hours after a tablet. So I then had to wait even longer to have
By the time my husband got home from work in the evening I was sat on the
sofa huddled in blankets watching my son play with his toys on his mat. I was
so exhausted I just did dinner in the oven that night. One of the symptoms is
fatigue because your body is fighting an infection. Another is the flu like
symptoms that hit you like a train. For a moment you feel fine and then boom
you’ve got shivering shakes and feel really cold. It was 28 degrees Celsius
outside and 24 inside my house, yet I was sat with a heavy cardigan on and a
blanket wrapped around me. I had these particular symptoms on and off for just
over forty eight hours, and they were not pleasant.
I was on my antibiotics course for two weeks, one tablet four times a day.
Luckily by the time I came to the end of the course I had noticed an
improvement and my pain was now subsiding. I did however still had the open
sore on my nipple which took another three weeks to heal completely. My son
couldn’t help opening it every time he had an aggressive “I’m really hungry”
The reason I got Mastitis was because I was away from my son for a few hours. Despite expressing some milk while away that day I still ended up engorged and in a lot of pain. Although I had encouraged him to feed more from my breast in the days that followed I could see my raised ducts weren’t going back down. If I ran my finger over my skin while he fed I could feel them, they were like tiny raised finger like shapes. A week or so later the pain and discomfort began getting a lot worse. One side of my breast was bright red and due to my encouraging more feeds to try and empty the breast, it had become sore and my skin was splitting where my nipple met my areolas. I gritted my teeth at the start of every feed.
My son prefers one side to the other… I hear most babies do! I recall the
doctor asking me if he fed on the other side and I said he did do, but my right
could never keep up with the supply and demand that the Left could. He
commented that I was rather lopsided, and I asked him to tell me something I
didn’t already know!
So the weeks past and luckily my Mastitis completely rectified itself and I didn’t need any further treatment. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I also have fairly small breasts as far as sizes go! I could imagine that someone with larger breasts where more infection could spread would be having a more difficult time of it! It didn’t reoccur at all although I have been careful not to have a spaced out feed since then, and my son has gone everywhere with me.
It took me a whole month to feel normal again, it was awful feeling so weak for a few days, but then the fatigue took a few days to recover from as well. I was grateful that I knew a bit about Mastitis due to my misdiagnosis when I had Ductal Thrush, so at least I was clued up on what to look out for. But some women are never told about these conditions and I think it’s important that they are discussed and recognised by the wider community.
Finally, I want to talk about the Isolation that Breastfeeding brings.
Breast is best, and it sure is! You get to bond with your baby, get extra cuddles and even burn more calories and get your pre-baby body back more quickly! But breastfeeding can also be very isolating especially if you can’t express or find it difficult to get your baby to take milk from a breast and a bottle… this was us. We had always hoped to do combination feeding, but our son didn’t like multiple bottle types. That said, I have never had an issue with feeding him by my breast, wherever I was and whenever he needed me to, I did it. So far that has been sat on the floor in Primark and even whilst walking around Tesco supermarket doing the grocery shopping.
I knew of mother friends who went back to a date night routine when their child was twelve weeks old, they went back to work at nine months, they went on a family holiday around the little ones first birthday. Most of these friends bottle fed their children for whatever reason. But you could end up like me, putting your little ones needs ahead of your own, you could be breastfeeding them for a particular reason. Our main reason is allergies, specifically food ones. It was imperative that I kept feeding him when my son was diagnosed with a potential milk allergy, and now we know it is a serious one I was glad that I stuck with feeding and didn’t put him at risk by trying all sorts of random formula. We are now waiting to see a consultant about his allergies, so for now I am sticking with breastfeeding him and maintaining a free from diet for me. It makes things difficult but I am used to it now, and I know he is safe.
It’s been hard not to be the social butterfly that I once was, but I have enjoyed the time with my son, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Especially the teaching and learning for both of us, the bonding and the love. Teaching him has been an absolute joy so far and I hope that it continues.
Unless other mother friends have breastfed and know what it’s like to have a cluster feeding baby who feeds every two hours and for fourteen or fifteen times a day, then they don’t know what it’s like to painfully turn down social invitations because you’re so exhausted you can just about feed and clothe yourself and the baby. It does get better, and routines are the key. Now I can plan my day so that I can get in a short walk and maybe a grocery shop between breast feeds and even do things around the house without baby getting too grumpy by not being permanently attached to my chest! I know it’s been a good day if I have showered, have done my home chores and gotten a walk in all before four o’clock in the afternoon. At that time every day we cuddle up on the sofa so he can feed, with a packet of free from biscuits for me, and we watch our favourite quiz shows together until it’s time for me to cook dinner. It’s a great life to live, although it can sometimes be a little lonely in terms of adult interaction, though I have to say being at home with my son all day is one of the best decisions I ever made. I know it cannot be like this forever and I will make the most of the time I have with him before things change.
I am a proud mother bear to be still feeding my child now at fifteen months of age. I’m also quite glad looking back, all the hurdles we have beaten and all the issues we have overcome. And yes I have to maintain a dairy free diet for the entire time that I continue breastfeeding, but you know what, it’s what is best for my son, so I will do it.
I guess what you can say here is that breastfeeding is only isolating if you let it become such. During those first few months everyone is learning and discovering and it’s both wonderful and scary and also amazing. This little life looks to you for everything and that is a massive deal, but you also cannot lose sight of who you were before you were mother of the baby. I think for a few months that was what happened to me. I stopped being Sabrina and started being mum, mum for every occasion. When in reality what was really happening was that I was isolating myself even more. I got out of that rut by joining a baby class and having an afternoon out with other parents and their children every week. The isolation started to become less and less and I soon felt more like myself again.
Recently my son has been teething, in fact for the last month he has cut tooth after tooth and is ahead of the game in terms of a teething diagram! This is a good thing in some ways, but it has also meant that he has fed more. Partly out of comfort and partly out of the fact he is having an overall growth spurt. I am back to having between four and six hours sleep in every twenty four hours, I am up at least twice a night and it is quite exhausting some days. But the feelings I have when I am the one who can soothe his pain and calm him down, is very reassuring to me, that bond is irreplaceable. So for now I make do with the lack of sleep, because of all the positives our continued feeding provides us.
So, if you’re breastfeeding and feel a little bit alone here is my advice. Join a club or a group, get out for some fresh air, invite family or friends around and do something together even if it’s free! Just remember that you’re not just a boob on legs, although some days you think that that is all your little one sees! You are a person, a parent and a mother who is doing this amazing thing for their child, but you need to look after yourself too, body and soul.
Don’t let breastfeeding close you off, allow it to open doors to so much more, more friends and more life experiences.
Thanks for reading this lengthy article, if you got to the end in one sitting then I give you a pat on the back. I will be talking about more aspects of parenting very soon. until then, see you later.
✩ Sabrina ✩
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