I’ll preface this with a disclaimer – I’m not a lactation consultant, I’m simply a breastfeeding mum who got mastitis 11 times in the first year of breastfeeding. I had the Australian Breastfeeding Association hotline on speed dial. I rang them constantly, in pain, feverish, and possibly delirious.
The ABA is run by volunteers, who were wonderfully reassuring and supportive. Their advice completely worked. I showered, massaged, used heat packs, and let my son feed (excruciatingly) from the affected side. But the mastitis kept coming back and I didn’t know why.
One wintery Monday morning, I bundled my fella into a baby carrier and headed outside. I hadn’t slept at all the previous night, and I was in pain and feeling the tell-tale feverish signs of mastitis. I don’t know why I went out at all, but something drew me to the local health food shop, wondering if I could find a magic cure.
He was a fellow with a beard and a man-bun. He swept me inside and handed me a bottle. “Take this. It’s worked for every woman I’ve seen”. I looked down at my hand. It was a tiny chilled glass bottle with the words “Ultrabiotic – pregnancy care”. Ultrabiotics? Were these probiotics on steroids?
I was desperate, and so I handed over my credit card and hurried home to take the first dose. Within six hours, my fever had gone. Within twelve hours, the pain had significantly reduced – at least, enough so that I could sleep. Within 24 hours, I was pain-free.
It turns out, our gut bacteria influence the function of our immune system, our stress response, and even our mental health. Between the pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones, sleep deprivation, inconsistent exercise, and my little nursling who seemed permanently attached to me – my microbiota were in chaos. It was no wonder that I had recurrent mastitis (11 times in 12 months, to be exact).
The probiotics fixed up my system that was already succumbing to mastitis. But, prevention is better than cure. I later discovered from Mr. Health Food Shop that even food sources of probiotics can ward off mastitis.
After the bottle of probiotics finished, I switched to food sources of probiotics like sauerkraut and vegan kimchi. I even started making my own sauerkraut. And I never ever got mastitis again. Ever. Even though I’ve continued breastfeeding for almost four years (and counting).
Of course, always consult your doctor for medical advice, especially if mastitis is becoming severe or prolonged. However, if there’s one thing that this experience taught me, it’s the power of our microbiome. When we take care of our gut bacteria, they take care of us.
Luckily the same habits that promote gut health also promote general physical and mental health, like staying active, managing stress, getting enough sleep (as much as possible, anyway), and eating plenty of high-fibre whole plant foods that nourish our “good” bacteria.
As parents, we do the best we can. Still, it’s worth paying attention to the areas of our life where we’re able to make some changes, whether it’s around food, sleep, exercise, or lifestyle. Even if it’s as simple as adding a few spoons of sauerkraut to dinner.