This will probably be of no use to 99.9% of the people that read this blog (sorry for the snooze fest of a post, but if you get to the end I’ll show you pictures of Levi). But if one hopeless feeling mom stumbles across this in her panicked search of the internet while suffering from Mastitis or an abscess, I’m happy to help that one.
Here was my situation…
When Levi was 4 weeks old, I developed a clogged duct, pretty normal from what I hear. I would have never known what it was or what to look for except a friend told me about hers a couple weeks prior. I did what all first time mom’s do and hopped online to see how to fix it. After a couple days of heat compresses, lots of pumping and massage it wasn’t getting better and a fever had begun. Fearing it had turned into Mastitis I headed into the walk in clinic.
Turns out, that was the case so I was put on antibiotics. The prescription was for 10 days, but the doctor said in a day or so, the fever should break and the antibiotics should reduce the swelling enough to get the clogs out.
After 7 days of the antibiotics the fever was gone, but the painful lumps remained. I spoke with my midwives and a lactation consultant and tried everything, I mean EVERYTHING – Castor oil packs on my breast prior to feeding, heat compress, cold compress after feeding, fed my boy on all fours, from the side, upside down, cabbage leaves after feeding, Lecithin supplements, pumping in the shower. Seriously, I tried it all. I was getting pretty frustrated so I went back to the doctor and she put me on another antibiotic, no dice.
When the second round of antibiotics didn’t work, I wanted an ultrasound because something was up. The majority of the lumps in my breast had gone away except for one large spot under where my right arm would rest on it. It was pretty painful and would not reduce no matter what I did. But it was not red on the outside After more Googeling (Mom’s best friend and worst enemy) I started to fear that I was one of the rare few who developed an abscess from Mastitis. I headed to the Breast Center at Swedish and the doctor with the worst bedside manner ever confirmed my fear, it was an abscess. That same day I was meeting with a surgeon.
The surgeon aspirated the lump with a frighteningly long needle and man did a lot of milk and puss come out of that thing. But oh the instant relief! We did a culture on the fluid and it was indeed infected with staph. My doctor was sure the pocket would fill back up shortly after because of the breastfeeding, and it did a couple days later. I wanted to keep aspirating it to see if it would go away because I feared having surgery. I went through natural child birth at a birthing center because I don’t like hospitals and invasive procedures, now this? I was freaking out to say the least. My doctor was pretty adamant that surgery would be the only way to remove and heal the abscess.
In my panic to avoid surgery I saw another doctor that specialized solely in breastfeeding, Dr O’Hara (Seattle Breastfeeding Medicine). She had suggestions on how we could try other procedures, but ultimately agreed that this was a deep abscess and had to be opened up to get properly cleaned out.
The Surgeon doctor and the breastfeeding doctor had differing opinions on if I could/should continue breastfeeding post surgery. The surgeon said close up shop, it won’t heal properly if I don’t quit. But the breastfeeding doctor said go for it. It will take a little longer as breast milk will constantly be flowing through it, but it will eventually work.
I wanted to continue to breastfeed, so I moved forward with the surgery without weening the baby.
To remove an abscess it requires going into the cavity, cleaning it out and leaving drains in it so the cavity can drain and let the cavity heal from the inside out. Well, breast feeding makes this tricky because you are constantly leaking milk. A normal abscess will heal in 1-2 weeks, mine was 4. For the first two weeks, I had two drains in that were flexible straws. I kept gauze at the end of them and changed out the dressing every couple of hours. I was still able to breastfeed when I had the drains in. For the first day I just pumped because I didn’t want Levi also enjoying my pain killer cocktail.
After two weeks the straws came out, and the gross part began. To have the incisions heal slowly so the inside could completely heal, I had to stuff gauze into the incisions. When I say ‘I’ I mean my loving husband. He was amazing. He even did it more gently than any of the surgical staff when they had to do it. Two weeks of that and the scars began to heal.
Not more than a couple days after the scars healed up, did another lump form. I was devastated.
Back to the surgeon I went. He did another aspiration of the lump, but this time it was just milk. No infection, yet. I told Casey and the doctor, that if I had to do surgery again, I’d quit breastfeeding. Casey wanted me to throw in the towel, it was hard for him to see me go through so much, but I had this desperate feeling to continue doing it.
I was sure this was another cavity where milk got trapped and once the drain healed up, the milk had no where to go. In a last ditch effort I went to a Physical Therapist, Peg Maas who specializes in lymphatic massage and ultra sound massage. I did a couple ultra sound massages with one of her colleagues to no avail. Then, I met with Peg and she instructed me to gently massage my incision sites because scar tissue can build up and cause blockages.
That same night, I was rubbing my scar in a small circle and all of the sudden my fingers were all wet. Milk had busted through the closed up scar! I squeezed all I could out and had instant relief! All those hard spots and backed up milk all flowed out. Then I called the surgeon. His response, “better out that in”. Um, okay? I leaked milk out the side of my boob for another two weeks and slowly, the incisions healed up again.
I’m now about 2 weeks out with healed up boobs, no lumps and just a couple scars to remind me of my Mastitis. All in all it was about a 10 week process.
I’m writing this rambling tale to let you know that even though it totally sucked, you can and will get to the other side. I learned not to take the first persons recommendation as the end all be all. Get multiple opinions and exhaust all your options. Also, everything was way more scary before it happened than it actually was. Surgery had me in tears and quaking in my boots, but it wasn’t that bad. It was over in a jif, and it didn’t even hurt. Nothing compared to child birth :).
When I was going through all this and reading the iPad in the dead of night about other peoples tales, I was terrified and felt hopeless. Everyone said it was the absolute worst and to give up breastfeeding. But that doesn’t need to happen, just keep trucking on. It’ll get fixed and you’ll be fine in the end!
And as promised if you got to the end….Levi!!