Breastfeeding my son was deeply empowering—even when I got mastitis
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Whenever I bring up breastfeeding, everyone seems to have an opinion—even if said person does not have breasts or children. My experience with breastfeeding started in books, where I read through an onslaught of information about it months before I gave birth to my baby. When my son arrived, we started out on this breastfeeding thing like champs, experiencing little to no complications with his latching or my own milk production. I felt like I was the real-life SuperMom that we’re all supposed to aspire to be. What has everyone been complaining about? I thought to myself.
Before you think of me as an ignorant mom who had it easy, keep reading. Baby hit all his milestones in a flash and I watched him grow in perfect health (and, thankfully, he continues to do so). But a month and a half after his birth, we hit a major hiccup that opened my eyes to the sometimes difficult—though still beautiful—reality of breastfeeding.
“I’d mostly been feeding my son with breast milk from my smaller boob, unwittingly ignoring my large, super engorged breast until it was too late: I developed mastitis.”
I have known, ever since puberty, that one of my breasts is larger than the other. What I didn’t know is that, with breastfeeding, this size difference would become much more significant. Insufficient breast tissue while nursing can lead to problems for a faction of moms. (With all of my reading before and after giving birth, I skipped that part of the book since my experience was going so smoothly).
I’d mostly been feeding my son with breast milk from my smaller boob, unwittingly ignoring my large, super engorged breast until it was too late: I developed mastitis.
Mastitis, for those privileged enough not to know about the condition, refers to the engorgement of the breasts, and inflammation of the breast tissue, because of a blockage in the milk ducts. This occurs for 1 in 10 breastfeeding women in America, and it can happen to moms having latching issues or to moms like me who who think that it’s wise to feed from one breast exclusively. Because I was almost solely feeding my son from my smaller breast, I left my other breast at risk of engorgement from backed-up milk and, ultimately, infection.
This resulted in a three-day hospitalization during which I recovered from the infection with rest, medication, and fluids.
“Even after this obstacle, my thoughts on breastfeeding remained the same: I told myself to keep going; don’t sweat it. By making the choice to primarily breastfeed my son on my mami journey—something that my grandmother, mother, and aunts did not have the opportunity to do—I felt empowered and connected to my son.”
Those three days without my son, so early in his life, were a total mindfuck, but I made it. I learned to feed with both my breasts so that the mastitis would not return. I stopped attempting to alter or increase my milk production based on ridiculous advice I’d read, and instead let my breastfeeding naturally progress. I also followed the homeopathic guidance of my midwife, who recommended trying these tiny pills available at health food stores, Phytolacca, should I ever feel its symptoms coming on again. Phytolacca is a plant extract used to treat various ailments, and you should speak to your doctor before deciding on any treatment. But when I felt discomfort returning, I took the Phytolacca and mastitis did not re-develop.
Even after this obstacle, my thoughts on breastfeeding remained the same: I told myself to keep going; don’t sweat it. By making the choice to primarily breastfeed my son on my mami journey—something that my grandmother, mother, and aunts did not have the opportunity to do—I felt empowered and connected to my son and his stunning growth. My entire birthing process had been different from what the women in my family recommended. I had a home birth with a doula and midwife, despite my grandmother being the last woman in my family to have a home birth over 40 years ago. My own mother had very little autonomy throughout her pregnancies because of her young age; she never felt spiritually attuned to the process, and I wanted another kind of experience. I wanted to learn to listen to my intuition as a mom, and to understand motherhood by having faith in myself and in my own body’s ability to provide. I believe there is a tradition of fear around childbirth in our culture—one that takes power away from women and midwives and gives it solely to doctors, even when they endanger our health by not listening to us—so I chose to follow alternative routes. They’ve worked for me.
This path also led me to La Leche League (LLL), an international organization dedicated to supporting breastfeeding mothers everywhere, with local chapters in 89 countries. They provide monthly meetings, advice, support, and 24/7 phone assistance with experienced leaders, which was very helpful after my temporary breastfeeding mishap.
In my life, there has been no grander or more difficult task than becoming a mom. Breastfeeding, particularly, is where I first experienced the hurdles of communication in motherhood, as newborn babies are clearly unable to verbally communicate with us. It was amazing to learn how to watch for my son’s physical cues for hunger and to predict when an outburst was coming.
I know that my experience and successes are individual. Breastfeeding is not a good or easy experience for every mother, and that is perfectly okay. But I also know that mothers who want to breastfeed may fear that smaller milk production or infants’ shallow latches means losing out on time to connect with their babies. My experience with mastitis showed me how many resources are available through organizations like La Leche League, and I want to uplift and motivate any woman who is struggling. I know with the certainty of a thousand abuelas that you’re doing an incredible job.