Pictures of Mastitis Go Viral for an Important Reason

Moms are sharing photos of mastitis—and they are raising an important point about a breastfeeding issue that's rarely mentioned.

Breastfeeding Baby Mom White Sweater
Photo: Lumen Photo/shutterstock 

Breastfeeding parents face some seriously significant challenges: There are 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 that many parents aren't even aware of it until they're personally affected: mastitis.

Mastitis is a painful infection of the breasts that affects some nursing people. The issue generally rears its head during the first few months, and in addition to sore, red breasts, some may experience fever and body aches.

British mother Remi Peers is among these parents—and like so many out there, the infection took Peers by surprise. By sharing her experience in an Instagram post, Peers is bringing much-needed attention to mastitis.

"I remember waking up at 3 am 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. 7 am 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 recognize the more subtle signs of mastitis (as I had seen no redness that day)," Peers wrote in the viral post.

Peers explains in her Instagram caption that after discovering her mastitis, she was rushed to the hospital by her family, where doctors treated her with morphine, anti-sickness meds, and antibiotics. She was admitted to the hospital where she stayed for two nights, separated from her nursing baby. The hospital wasn't able to provide her with a breast pump, which contributed to her condition worsening. Peers wrote that a nurse couldn't give her a pump because "we're having trouble finding ones as we don't get many breastfeeding mothers here," Peers wrote.

What Is Mastitis?

Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the breast that causes inflammation and pain. For breastfeeding parents, mastitis is usually triggered by clogged milk ducts, which can cause an infection that, if left untreated, can turn into sepsis.

The bacteria that cause mastitis can get into the breast tissue through small cuts in cracked and chapped nipples, so it is important to keep the skin moisturized to prevent cracking.

Signs and symptoms of mastitis

Mastitis is a painful condition that is difficult to ignore. Most people who experience it will have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling breast tissue—one breast may appear unusually larger than the other
  • Skin that feels hot to the touch and is red, itchy, and tender
  • Tenderness in the armpit or under the arm area
  • Fever with or without chills

Mastitis Might Be Common But It's Also Scary

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.

Remi Peers

"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."

— Remi Peers

"The breastfeeding rates in the UK are shockingly low. The health system and society, in general, are 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 parent to share their 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?" Bliss wrote in the caption.

While more and more parents are opening up about mastitis, there's not enough information available to new parents where this breastfeeding complication is concerned. It's a common issue that has many so thrown off that they stop breastfeeding completely when it sets in (ironically, breastfeeding is the best way to clear up mastitis).

But parents like Peers and Bliss bring change in the best possible way—by educating others.

If you have questions about breastfeeding, including how to prevent or treat mastitis, call your provider or seek information from a lactation support like Le Leche League International.

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