I thought I had the flu. It turned out to be mastitis

Anyone can get mastitis – and it can be excruciatingly painful at times

Anyone can get mastitis – and it can be excruciatingly painful at times

Anyone can get mastitis – and it can be excruciatingly painful at times

I lay in bed realizing that I had finally given up. I had a flu. The self-diagnosis made sense: our then 15-month-old daughter contracted her billionth disease of the year in kindergarten and was suffering from a high temperature and a kind of choking cough that tore her chest. Meanwhile, the number of flu cases has increased in the UK.

I spent a sleepless night shaking in bed one minute, aggressively chattering my teeth, and sweating the next. In the morning my body ached and I was so tired I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get out of bed. Spoiler alert: I had to because, as we all know, little kids don’t stop. Even when he’s sick.

I took a Covid test and it was negative. I spent the rest of the day trying to look after my daughter, feeling like I’d been hit with a ton of bricks. That meant one by one Hey Duggee and a lot of reading – she would bring books and sit on top of me when I was on the sofa, so I didn’t really have much say in the matter.

As the day wore on, one of my boobs started to hurt a bit but I brushed it off. In over a year of breastfeeding, I’d never had mastitis, so I assumed I wouldn’t develop it now – the stories I’ve heard about it have always come from people who experienced it within a few months of having a baby.

Also, my breasts hurt many times due to swelling, but I always managed to solve this problem at home.

The next day I still felt terrible and noticed that my tender tit now had a red spot on one side and, oh boy, the pain was on a higher level. It got to the point where touching and even putting on a bra hurt. At this point, I strongly suspected that the flu was not the cause of my body aches, fatigue, and chills, so I called the doctor’s office and was able to make an appointment that afternoon.

After a quick examination, while my doctor was exclaiming how hot and red the area was, she confirmed that I had mastitis – inflammation of the breast, usually as a result of an infection. This problem mainly occurs in breastfeeding women when milk accumulates in one of the breasts or a blocked milk duct has not been cleaned properly.

The pain can be extreme. Now I fully understand why Stacey Solomon once described it as feeling like her tits were “on fire.”

The diagnosis made sense. For the past few weeks, I’ve been limiting the number of feedings to try to wean my daughter off milk during the day, so she’s really only been eating odd meals at night.

Still, I was surprised I hadn’t developed the problem sooner and that the pain was secondary to flu symptoms – but maybe I’m just used to that dull ache that comes from not emptying my breasts properly.

Symptoms of mastitis include:

Antibiotics (cure for mastitis) were prescribed and after a few days it felt like pouring rain again – no chills, no tremors and a very happy breast. I’ve had a few problems with blocked wires since then, but I’m no longer satisfied. Whenever I felt a twinge of tenderness, I immediately took care of the problem to avoid turning into mastitis again.

This often meant placing a warm wet cloth over the sensitive area or a warm shower or bath. But the NHS also recommends continuing to breastfeed, starting with the sore breast first to empty the milk supply; expressing milk between feedings; and massaging the breast area where it is tender.

It should be noted that mastitis can occur in anyone, even in men. If it’s not due to the buildup of breast milk, it could be due to: smoking, nipple damage, breast implants, a weak immune system, or shaving/plucking nipple hair.

If you experience flu-like symptoms and breast pain that doesn’t go away after 24 hours, talk to your GP. Don’t fight it or brush it because the sooner it heals, the sooner you’ll feel better.

And if you’re experiencing recurrent mastitis, it’s definitely worth talking to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding specialist who can help you understand why this is happening.

Help and support:

  • You can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm, daily)

  • Get breastfeeding support from La Leche League.

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