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Unhappy Breasts Post-Baby

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Two months after having her baby, this mom struggles with her health and talks about a common postpartum health issue.

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Health.com's Erica Kain: I thought all the medical problems I experienced during pregnancy would be gone postpartum. Unfortunately, my post-baby bliss was interrupted by a rising fever and aches all over my body.

I couldn't get up from my chair, pick up a toy from the floor, or complete any of my usual tasks without a great deal of pain throughout my body. It seemed that every joint was throbbing -- an inconvenient position for a woman raising two toddlers and a newborn.

I called my OB/GYN. (It had been almost a month since I'd called him, so I figured he must be getting bored.) He asked about my symptoms and diagnosed me with mastitis, a fairly common phenomenon for new mothers, and one I'd experienced before.

I was surprised at this diagnosis; my breasts didn't hurt. I'd had none of the swollen lymph nodes, red streaks near my breasts, lumps, or any of the more severe symptoms I associate with the condition. Nursing, while initially painful and causing blisters on both breasts, was actually going well.

But as it turns out, mastitis is caused by things like my cracking blisters. Bacteria makes its way into the open skin and the next thing you know, you're sick.

But the insidious thing about mastitis is how easy it is to dismiss initially. Caring for a newborn is already an intense, 24-hour job that involves sleep deprivation and a great deal of physical fortitude -- carrying, patting, swaddling, burping, not to mention lactation and recovering from major abdominal surgery. I thought I was simply rundown, or perhaps I had the flu. By the time I was burning up with fever and miserable from the symptoms, it was hard to determine what might actually be wrong.

Luckily, my obstetrician got me started on a course of Dicloxacillin -- and his nurse was right when she said it would work quickly. By the next morning, I was ready to start jogging and resume my regularly scheduled diaper-changing extravaganza.

But there is a dark side to this miracle worker. Taking antibiotics such as Dicloxacillin while nursing can lead you into the terrible world of thrush. Thrush is an itchy yeast infection that ping-pongs between your nipples and your infant's mouth, and it can be extremely difficult to get rid of.

I had mastitis last year, took antibiotics, and ended up with an unbeatable thrush infection that was a major contributor in my decision to switch to formula. Nursing was extremely itchy for me, and the thrush had settled on my daughter's tongue. When the infection started to make its way into my milk ducts, I was happy to wean my daughter and stop boiling bottles and wiping my sore nipples with vinegar solution after every nursing session. What a relief!

This time around, I had just finished my course of Dicloxacillin when the skin below one nipple began to itch. Alarm bells went off and sent me on a pre-dawn crawl around in our cabinets. I dug up vinegar and cotton balls, determined to head off the thrush at the pass.

I also found last year's arsenal of probiotics sitting in the back of the refrigerator and started popping them like crazy, hoping to repopulate my body with the "good" bacteria that might help defeat the onslaught of thrush. Having weaned my second daughter fairly early, I would really like to continue nursing this baby. The nutritional (and economic!) benefits of breast milk trump formula any day.

So wish us luck -- me and my breasts -- as the mastitis fades and the thrush blooms. We're determined to feed this baby and stay healthy in the meantime.


next: K-Fed on His Two Boys: They're Fortunate Kids
78 comments so far | Post a comment now
Amber July 28, 2009, 6:45 PM

I have 10 1/2 month old. I tried breast feeding and ended up with a tear so bad in my nipple that milk just constantly leaked out. I tried using nipple sheilds to help them heal but nothing worked. I ended up switching him to formula at 5 weeks. He is very healthy (only one cold and no ear infections). My nipples have healed but the scars are still kind of deap gashes acroos my nipples and I dont think there’s anything that can be done about that.

ashley July 29, 2009, 8:44 AM

My daughter was almost 13 months and still breastfeeding and I was trying to wean her. My hubby went to work and I was starting to feel like I was getting the flu. Within an hour I was in the bed feeling like death. I did have a lump in my breast. I called my mom, no answer so I called Grandma and she said get to the doctor right now. So I dragged my shivering feeling like crap self to the ER with my 1 year old and 6 year old. Let me tell you, that was an interesting visit. They gave me some antibiotics and told me to start breastfeeding and hold off on the weaning for a little while. It hurt like hell to nurse her on that side though but it also hurt like hell to let it fill up from not feeding her. THat is not something I would EVER wish on ANYONE!!!!

mariam_rifaii@hotmail.com October 3, 2009, 10:14 PM

i have a 2month baby i put him on formul beacuse he was not getting enough milk but he was still accepting my breast but he was fussy one day i tried putting him on my breast and he would not accept it i tried 3 to 4 time and he would not take it what what can i do to let him take it i feel very very bad plzzzz help

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i have a 2month baby i put him on formul beacuse he was not getting enough milk but he was still accepting my breast but he was fussy one day i tried putting him on my breast and he

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