When it comes to breastfeeding, there’s a lot of information thrown at you. Techniques, tips, rules, cautions, support, judgment, you name it. It’s a flurry of emotions.
This complete overload of information and anxiety meant that, when my breastfeeding journey came to an end, I wasn’t prepared for the one thing they didn’t tell me about—mastitis.
Yes, the m-word was something I had heard about in the early months. I knew I could come down with the sickness if I didn’t do certain things the right way, but I didn’t know it could resurface in the journey when you stop breastfeeding altogether.
I admit I may have been a little careless when it came to quitting. I’d been breastfeeding for a year. A year! This is coming from the woman who started the journey by saying, “I’ll give it three months. That’s my goal.” Well, that three months turned into 12, and I eventually decided I’d done my part.
After fifteen pumping-at-work sessions a week, cleaning machine parts, and avoiding wine within the windows of feeding, I was ready to mark breastfeeding off my list of accomplishments.
So ready, in fact, that I just quit. Cold turkey. I woke my son up on the morning of his birthday, fed him, and clocked out. I went about my pump-free day without a care in the world. Tons of caffeine at 10 a.m…why not? I’m off the clock, baby! You wanna schedule a meeting at 2 p.m….sure! I won’t be suctioning myself in the storage closet for 20 minutes!
But, here’s the thing. By my son’s bedtime that night, I was feeling pretty rough. It felt like I was coming down with something. A cold, maybe. Hopefully not the flu. I went to bed, hoping I’d be back on my game when morning rolled around.
Wrong! Oh, so, so wrong.
When I woke up, it felt like my entire right side had been wedged beneath a steamroller all night. The pain was intense, but I chocked it up to a restless night and headed to work.
A mere two hours later, I realized death was imminent. The pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Looking at you, childbirth. You ain’t got nothing on this pain, you hear? I literally could not move without searing pain. It felt like red hot tennis balls had been implanted underneath the skin of my breasts, and excruciating pain followed any contact with them.
I straight up felt like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz, before his oil experience, because I was frozen. If I moved, I screamed. Not to mention, I had a raging fever. Every muscle hurt. My head throbbed. I coughed. I sneezed. I wheezed. I sniffled.
It felt like the worst case of the flu in American history, coupled with searing orbs of pain attached to my chest.
Needless to say, I went home so I could cry in peace. I had ice on one side, a heating pad on the other, wine in my left hand, television remote in my right. I was on bed rest. Because this, my friends, was mastitis. And it is so much worse than they say.
If you’re terrified, don’t be. There’s an easy way to avoid this hot (literally) mess, and if I’d only known, I wouldn’t have been in this situation. If you’re looking to stop breastfeeding, do not under any circumstances quit cold turkey. Especially if, like me, you’ve been pumping for a year.
Instead, taper off. Cut out one feeding at a time until you feel alright, then cut out another. Eventually, you’ll be free from the chains and you’ll avoid opening the gates of hell known as mastitis. It took me a couple of weeks to successfully wean my son, and it was actually kind of nice to have a few more bonding sessions with him.
In short, if you’re thinking about ending your breastfeeding journey, learn from my mistake and do it the right way!