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Stress and Deep Breast Pain

By Tiffany Buraglio
Carmel Valley CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 1, January-February 2003, p. 9

I had an easy time breastfeeding my first child. So when I was pregnant with my second child, I didn't even brush up on my breastfeeding knowledge because I was confident that my second experience would go as smoothly as my first. For the first few weeks, breastfeeding progressed as I expected.

Then, when my daughter was about three months old, I had my first plugged duct. That had never happened to me before, so I did some research on how to get rid of it. I was able to relieve the pressure after about 24 hours, but then I experienced a soreness in the duct area for a few days and felt as though I was bruised. A week or two later, I got another plugged duct. This began my pattern of getting plugged ducts every week or two. After six weeks of this, I experienced a different sort of breast pain, with tenderness, redness, and heat on one breast. I thought it might be mastitis, so I made an appointment with my obstetrician/gynecologist. He agreed and prescribed a course of antibiotics. The pain went away, but after a week or so, my pattern of plugged ducts began again. Soon afterward, I came down with a sinus infection and I went on antibiotics again.

Since this was my second child, I was feeling taxed, both mentally and physically, and really didn't devote much time or energy to figuring out why I was getting so many plugged ducts. Because I had mastered how to treat them, I just dealt with them and moved on. I already knew what a beneficial experience breastfeeding was for both me and my baby, and I never felt like giving up. I thought that maybe I just had too much milk. I was hoping the occurrence of plugged ducts would diminish after my baby started solid foods and my milk supply decreased.

But even when my daughter did start solids, the problems didn't go away. I began experiencing bouts of burning pain in my breasts that seemed to radiate from my chest wall out to the nipple. Since I had experienced plugged ducts and mastitis, I knew this was different. My breasts were soft, with no hard ducts, they were not red on the outside or hot to the touch, yet there was a burning, shooting pain inside. The pain was more severe when I wasn't nursing and came and went every few days, kind of like the plugged ducts. Then I developed a severe case of tonsillitis and took yet another course of antibiotic medication.

When my daughter turned a year old, I had a very severe case of this breast pain. For about 12 hours, the pain was so intense it made me gasp. Then, the pain lessened until it went away. Now, in addition to the cycle of plugged ducts, I was getting cycles of intense pain every few days. The pain was really making me short-tempered and I was feeling very guilty about having no patience with my daughter, my four-year-old son, or my husband. I was also feeling so run down by the persistent pain that I was physically exhausted. I finally got serious about trying to figure out what was going on.

While doing some research on the Internet, I came across articles about yeast infections of the breast ducts. I had never heard of this before, but the symptoms seemed to fit my problems. I didn't have any external signs of thrush, but obviously something was going on inside my breasts. My gynecologist told me that I would have to be severely immunocompromised in order for that to happen. He suggested that I stop ingesting caffeine, which I did for a week with no lessening of symptoms. I got some other suggestions from a La Leche League Leader in my area, including encouragement to get as much rest as possible, but the symptoms persisted.

Finally, a local certified pediatric nurse practitioner that I spoke with on the phone suggested I take megadoses of acidophilus, since she thought that it was possible that I did have a ductal yeast infection. Now that I have completed two months of the suggested treatment, I have not had a single recurrence of either breast pain or a plugged duct. My daughter is 16 months old now, and we are finally enjoying a breastfeeding experience without persistent bouts of pain.

Looking back, I see that the three courses of antibiotics I took-combined with the effort my sleep-deprived body was making to breastfeed, care for two children, and deal with stress from the events of September 11, 2001-really must have weakened my immune system. The acidophilus has worked wonders for me and I am so happy to finally have my usual temperament back. I'm sure my family is happy for that too!

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