I just wanted to provide an update, and a whole lot of notes for myself – and any other gals out there who could use this information in their own lives. NONE of it is a recommendation to you. Please do your research as you pursue health and wellness. Also seek professional help, as necessary.
Other posts in the series:
- Our Rainbow; the start of this particular journey
- Nursing Tips: Infection
- Nursing Tips: Ties
- Nursing Tips: Supply
- Nursing Tips: List of Herbs
Aury and I have been progressing nicely since his birth and our nursing woes. The infection that I got early on led to some fairly long-term issues. In fact, it’s only now (he’s 9+ weeks old) that I can honestly say nursing is going “normal.” I’m so thankful for that!
In an effort to clean out the infection and (Lord willing) keep supply up, Aury and I were working hard at nursing as often as possible for the first several weeks. This left us hunkered down at home most of the time. The side effects were that nursing was still painful since I was recovering from his early poor latching, and the tissue in my infected breast had been severely damaged to the point of zero milk production by one week postpartum; yet [lots of] fluid draining (never have had this for more than a day or two). This caused a lot of belly aches for my poor nursing babe. We were both frustrated more than once. But neither of us were about to give up at this point.
It literally took over 5 weeks for my milk ducts to clear, and for milk to begin to return (no more stringy-ness; no other fluids; exterior bruising gone; nip swelling diminished). I’ve never had an infection have such long-term effects. Only this week do I finally feel like it’s back to full production. Despite all of this, praise God, we have a very healthy chunky monkey, and have been pleasantly surprised that there has been so little scarring.
As we carried no schedule during those weeks, it’s took a week or two to get into a good rhythm. Aury is definitely a more happy baby with a clear cycle. We both have really appreciated the calm we now can enjoy. We both appreciate the freedom to leave as well, him and I both emotionally (ha!) doing outings smashingly now.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about the healing measures we took during the time of engorgement, infection and poor latch, as well as what I’ve done to work on maintaining a good supply during – and after! I’ve decided to go at it one subject per post, so check for my others in this Nursing Tips “series” if you’re interested. Perhaps start here to get a full view of what we were dealing with.
There are many techniques and recommendations to treat mastitis (breast infection), milk fever, and nipple health (poor latch, etc). I cannot cover them all here, and do not hope to. I want to share what worked for me, tho’, in hopes that it can offer some practical help to your own toolbox of information. I also want to keep records for my future benefit.
I’ve had a lot of breast infections in my lactating years, and so at the onset of my first with Aury – only 3 days after he was born – I knew what was coming. I got a flax seed bag warmed up, removed restrictive clothing, filled up a water canister and went to bed. Unfortunately, Scott was laid out on the bathroom floor with a migraine, hugging the toilet all night long. So Kendra slept in our bed all night, getting up and helping so much during the night.
I was delirious. Hot. Cold. Sweaty. Headache. But we had to press on. The sweet fresh babe would need new milk as I was also just starting to become engorged. The combo was quite the trip. Not realizing yet that it was a poor latch that was contributing to the infection, I went at it with my normal tricks:
Nurse as often as possible. I realize that when you have an infection, it’s hard to want to let a baby nurse it out. It’ll hurt like the dickens. But it’s so important! If your baby won’t take it, try pumping to clean out the infected duct. Make sure that the pump, however, isn’t exacerbating the problem. It was with Aury because of his poor latch and the damage it was inflicting on my nips, and after Day <5?>, I was pumping a shockingly scary amount of blood. My mammaries were mad. Aury was gassy and belly-upset (this continued into his 4th week of life, thanks to this infection). All that to say: Stick with hand expressing and nursing if pumping is problematic.
Drink lots! Your body needs to flush out the infection. You also are at risk for becoming dehydrated as a breastfeeding Mama, and as your body fights infection. Drink water if it’s easiest, or have an herbal tea nearby – always, infection or not!
Take a hot shower. Or warm bath with epson salts! It will help your milk let down, stimulate blood flow, soothe your body and calm your nerves. Add some essential oils or herbs (below), if wanted.
Use compresses. In the same light as showering, hot compressing is fantastic, as well as cold. Some gals will use boiled cabbage leaves alone (there’s conflicting information that cabbage leaves can help diminish supply for weaning – so I avoid it) or grated raw potato. I like to soak a cotton cloth (or nursing pad!) in an herbal tea and place over my whole chest. I had a pot warm on the stove that I’d just dunk, squeeze a bit and repeat all day long. When using cotton, I’d start with a layer of plastic wrap, put on the compress and top it all with a hot pad (I use a flax seed bag, but sometimes the weight of it isn’t my friend if I have an infection). I’d use any of the herbs listed under “herbal oils” below. Raw apple cider vinegar compressing also has been known to be helpful. It’s cooling effect was soothing, but the smell… I just couldn’t do it for long. Be sure to clean your nips before next nursing so babe isn’t getting anything other than your milk.
Tuck in hand warmers. A sort of hot compress “cheat,” Scott bought a box of 10 that served an awesome help. I was in no position to leave my house, but when I did (or if I was up and at ’em), I’d stuff one of these in my top against the infected area. Often with a soaked nursing pad (compress). I keep one in our diaper bag at all times just in case.
Herbal oils. Y’all know I’m not a huge proponent of using essential oils excessively, but this was a particularly useful time that I put them to work. I didn’t have a lot of energy to make up concoctions all day, so infused some olive oil with a few herbs and applied generously on my chest, particularly the affected areas (but away from my nipple so Aury wouldn’t be consuming any of it). I used rosemary, sage, lavender, garlic, marshmallow, calendula and comfrey. Nearly all of these herbs would do well for you/Mama in tincture or tea (internal) form as well except those noted. I’d use comfrey internally with caution, at best.
Massage. This is one of the first things I do if I feel an infection coming on. That, heat and rest. I massage the affected area in a circular motion as often as I think of it. It will help work out your ducts. This was a good time for me to use the infused oils (above).
REST. I know, I know. You have a baby (and possibly a passel of children besides that). Responsibilities loom. But it is SO important that you rest. Now is one of those times that you should plug in a movie (or twelve in a row) and let the kids chill as you do. Give you nips a rest, too. When not in a compress, leave them exposed as much as possible. No bra or restrictive clothes. No shirt. Fresh air.
Coconut oil. I adore lanolin. I’ve used it on my nips (and lips!) for a decade and a half now. I love how thick it is, and how healing it is. BUT I had to let it go when I had this rough time with Aury. It’s tackiness was not helpful. It caused me to stick to my nursing pads (tearing off scabs from poor latch – shiver), and also is so thick that it doesn’t allow your nipple to breathe. I switched to coconut oil and instantly noticed improvement – and it was sooo soothing – and good for the little man nursing, too! Once things are under control with nursing, I suspect I’ll go back to lanolin just because I adore it.
Antibiotics. I use propolis because it has a lot of antibiotic properties. I sprayed (YEE-ouch!) a tincture straight onto my tips right after each nursing session when I had cracking, preventing further infection, and hopefully getting into my ducts to work some magic. If natural remedies aren’t working, your doctor will recommend antibiotics. I’ve resorted to this once early on in my mastitis years when I didn’t know how to work on it myself and it got way out of hand.
To help your body fight the infection, consider boosting your Vitamin C, echinacea, and probiotics. You’ll want to boost your immune system as it fights and to prevent further infections.