Breastfeeding moms face some seriously significant challenges: There's midnight feedings, pumping breaks at work, and constant shame when you need to feed your baby in public. But there's one breastfeeding hardship that flies so far under the radar, many moms aren't even aware of it until they're personally affected.
The issue is mastitis, a painful infection of the breasts that affects some nursing women. The issue generally rears its head during the first few months, and in addition to sore, red breasts, women may experience fever and body aches.
British mother Remi Peers is among these women—and like so many mothers out there, the infection took Peers by surprise. By sharing her own experience in an Instagram post last year, Peers is bringing some much-needed attention to mastitis.
"I remember waking up at 3am shivering, putting on my dressing gown and extra blankets and trying to feed my son. The pain. It was excruciating. I was shaking and sweating but freezing to my bones. At 5 am I woke up my boyfriend and told him I thought I needed to go to the hospital. We got my stepdad, a doctor, he took my temperature and said it was slightly high, but to take a paracetamol and try and sleep. 7am comes, I've had no sleep, and now I'm vomiting, he takes my temp again. 40 c. I had developed sepsis overnight. This was because I was not able to recognise the more subtle signs of mastitis (as I had seen no redness that day)," she wrote in the viral post.
"I was rushed to resus, given morphine, anti sickness and the strongest antibiotics they could give, and separated from my baby for two nights. I was Heartbroken. During my hospital stay, I repeatedly asked for a pump, because if I didn’t drain the breast my mastitis would get worse (and it did). The nurse’s response was ‘we’re having trouble finding one as we don’t get many breastfeeding mothers here.’”
Peers, who admitted that breastfeeding didn't come easily to her, made an important point: Mastitis isn't just a painful and scary condition, it's also an issue that speaks to a larger parenting struggle.
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"Women are not expected to give birth alone, but somehow today they are expected to breastfeed alone, and not share their experience with others, and this is why so many breastfeeding relationships end before they've even really started," she wrote. "The breastfeeding rates in the UK are shockingly low. The health system, and society in general is failing breastfeeding mothers. I see many professionals push breast is best almost aggressively in some cases, and yet there is no real support post baby. Breastfeeding is HARD, it needs to be taught and it needs to be learned. Just like walking, talking, reading and writing- it may be natural, but it does not always come naturally."
Peers isn't the first mother to share her mastitis story: Lindsey Bliss, a doula and breastfeeding mom, uploaded a photograph showing the painful condition while nursing her baby, but this isn't your standard #brelfie: Bliss's breast is clearly red and inflamed in the photo.
"When a good boob goes bad - AGAIN! I literally wanted Dan to bring me to the ER last night due to the most EPIC engorged boob, full body shakes, and a crushing headache. On the mend today from my bed. Why does this keep happening?" the mom captioned the breastfeeding photo.
"It literally feels like someone kicked me in the breast," Bliss told Cosmopolitan. "No one really warns you about how powerful mastitis is. Your boob can cause a full body shut down...You always see these flawless goddess photos of breastfeeding, and no one discusses or shows when shit gets crazy. Yes, [you might think] breastfeeding is the best thing for your child, but it isn't always unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes it just sucks."
While more and more moms are opening up about mastitis, there's not enough information available to new mothers where this breastfeeding complication is concerned. It's a common issue that has many mothers so thrown, they stop breastfeeding completely when it sets in (though ironically breastfeeding is actually the best to clear up mastitis).
But women like Peers and Bliss are bringing change in the best possible way—by educating others.