This is mastitis.
After hitting the one year breastfeeding mark last Sunday I felt compelled to share my story.
Breastfeeding did NOT come easy for me.
My milk came in after five days. I wasn't aware that it could take that long, I didn't even necessarily know what "milk coming in" meant (nobody ever taught me.)
I was the only mother breastfeeding on my ward. One woman did try to breastfeed, but switched to formula after 12 hours because she "had no milk" (nobody taught her either.) While the other babies slept with full bellies, my son screamed and cried attached to my breast through the night (what was cluster feeding? Nobody told me).
When I got home, problems started to arise - my nipple literally cracked in half. I have never felt such pain. I dreaded every feed, but persisted with tears in my eyes until I was healed (nobody taught me that breastfeeding could be painful, nobody taught me what a good latch looked like).
When feeding my son out in public I would either go to the bathroom or pump at home and feed him with a bottle because I felt embarrassed and as though I would make others uncomfortable. This resulted in clogged ducts and engorgement (I feed freely in public now, and have done for a long time. Fuck this backwards society!)
Then came 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 came, I had no sleep, and I was vomiting, he took 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).
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".
There's a lot more to this story but my point is, the lack of support and education surrounding breastfeeding is just terrible. And I don't mean in terms of relaying the benefits of breastmilk and handing out lactation support leaflets. I mean general education, about the basics of breastfeeding, about cluster feeding, about the problems that can arise and what to do, how to spot them and how to remedy them.
The peddling of formula in the 60's/70's has broken the vital cycle of passing knowledge from one generation to the next. (I know formula saves lives and serves a great purpose) but in the past we would have had our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and friends, all giving their support, their wisdom and their knowledge. But many of our mothers and grandmothers don't know as they never breastfed.
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. 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.
And this is what I should have known but didn't, this is what I might have known if breastfeeding rates were higher, if this society didn't objectify breasts. If new mothers knew just how difficult it can be at first, more would take themselves to prenatal breastfeeding classes, buy books, join forums, and ask more questions. But we don't, we just assume that it will feel as natural as breathing. Because no one ever told us.
This post originally appeared on Remi's Instagram, which can be found here.