Mastitis and abscesses

by Lucy

I found breastfeeding really difficult with my first child. My midwife was a lactation specialist in our local area and was extremely forceful in her promotion of breastfeeding and not allowing consideration of anything else.
She diagnosed tongue tie in my son and advised that breast feeding would be harder because of it. I was not prepared for the excruciating pain that I would experience every time that I tried to feed my little one. It was awful, I cried every time he needed feeding as I felt like I couldn't face the agony of him latching on. Due to the tongue tie he took 45 minutes to feed from the first side, a further 45 minutes from the next side and then would be hungry for more within 45 minutes. it was exhausting and a very difficult time.
After 5 days I decided to try nipple shields as I'd been told that these could really help the nipples heal themselves. I did find this helped initially but unfortunately when my son was a week old I developed mastitis. I felt dreadful and found the feeding even harder. I mentioned the mastitis to my midwife, who, was far from sympathetic and told me in no uncertain terms that it was because I'd used the nipple shields. I felt like a terrible mother and as if I'd brought it on myself. to make matters worse I suggested to my midwife that I was considering going to the doctors with the mastitis. She told me that under no circumstances should I go to the doctor as they would immediately prescribe antibiotics and that these would be no good for my baby as I was feeding and may cause a small tummy upset. Boy, do I wish I'd not listened to her. As a first time mum I assumed that her word was gospel and so heeded her warning and didn't go to the doctor, but tried the alternative therapies she recommended. As such, the mastitis got worse and after a further week I had developed a very large abscess. At this point I decided to overrule my midwife and booked an appointment to see my gp. After one look at the abscess, she sent me to hospital to have it drained. After 7 and a half hours of waiting in surgical admissions, while I pumped milk and my lovely sister and parents fetched it and took it home to my son, I was seen and had the abscess lanced under local anesthetic. The pain was unbearable and I had to push the surgeon away during the procedure. Once finished I was sent home and told to come back to see the breast surgeon in a couple of days, but to continue feeding my son. Unfortunately when I returned to hospital to see the surgeon, she said that the abscess hadn't completely emptied and that I'd need to be admitted immediately and have it drained under general anesthetic later that evening. I was gutted, my son was only 3 weeks old and I didn't want to spend a night away from him so promptly became quite hysterical!
I was admitted early evening and eventually had the small operation at 3am the next day. When I woke I was told that the abscess was a large one and that it had been packed with an internal dressing. It was necessary to have the packing removed before I was allowed home and I have to say that it was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had. To think of that now, 9 years later, makes me queasy.
Following a procedure like this, it is necessary to change the packing every day and to allow the wound to heal from the inside out. Unfortunately this meant that a nurse had to come to our home each day for 7 weeks to change the dressing. They couldn't be specific as to what time they'd come so it meant staying in until they'd been. I have to admit that this was a pretty miserable time for me and I felt fairly low.
I guess I've bothered to post this story as I would hate anyone else to go through this when it's not necessary. I fully believe that if I'd gone to the doctors as soon as I knew I had mastitis instead of listening to my midwife, that I would have avoided the abscess. I fully advocate breastfeeding and it's great to have the support to allow you to do it, but I also believe that the mum's welfare should play an important part of that support and that midwife's need to recognise that.
I continued to feed my son for 10 months and ironically it was a LOT easier after I'd had the mastitis and abscess but it was a very hard, and I feel avoidable, start.

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