Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
Zoe Ayling, West Sussex, UK
Photo: Anna Bondarieva
Zoe continued breastfeeding through a challenging and painful experience …
I first noticed a lump in my right breast when my daughter, Niamh, was six weeks old. It wasn’t painful so I didn’t think it was an abscess. I thought that it was unlikely to be cancer, so I waited to see what would happen. I had already had two courses of antibiotics for mastitis. I was having difficulty with breastfeeding and felt I needed to concentrate on that.
When the lump was still there eight weeks later, I went to my family doctor, who referred me to the local breast clinic. I was seen within two weeks, and the consultant felt the lump, then stuck a needle in it and drained about ten milliliters (a little more than a fourth of an ounce) of pus. He gave me an appointment for two weeks later because the clinic was closed over the Christmas holiday period. On New Year’s Day, my breast was red and swollen, so I went to see the out-of-hours doctor, who prescribed more antibiotics to tide me over until my clinic appointment.
Back in the clinic, the consultant tried to drain more pus from my abscess, but couldn’t. I had to go back the following day to see if it could be done under ultrasound guidance. Nothing would drain then either, so we decided to watch and wait. I went to the clinic weekly for four weeks. Although the ultrasounds still weren’t showing any pus to drain, I was starting to feel quite unwell. I was exhausted and finding it hard to look after Niamh. My consultant felt that it was time for an operation, and booked me the following day for an incision and drainage. He said that he had only had to operate on about three women over the last 10 years, as a breast abscess will usually settle with recurrent aspiration and antibiotics.
In the morning, my parents drove me to the hospital while my husband looked after Niamh. I was in floods of tears at the thought of being separated from her for 24 hours. I took my breast pump so that I could express while I was away from her, and I had checked with a pharmacist from my breastfeeding support network that I would be able to breastfeed after the anesthetic.
They drained 200 milliliters (almost seven ounces) of pus from my abscess, which seemed like a huge amount. I slept a lot that afternoon, and when I woke up, I saw my daughter’s head sticking round the curtain. My mother had driven her and my husband to visit me. She only stayed for about 10 minutes, but it was fantastic to see her. I didn’t get a chance to breastfeed her, because I was feeling too tired and sore.
I went home the following morning and breastfed Niamh the minute I was in the door. When I changed the dressing, I had to make sure that it didn’t cover my nipple so that Niamh could still breastfeed. I had a drain in my breast for a week, and it was removed in my first post-operation clinic visit. I had to continue my weekly clinic visits for about a month, until the wound healed.
I was worried that my abscess would mean the end of breastfeeding for me, but I am happy to say that it wasn’t. I am currently tandem feeding Niamh (who is almost three) and Oscar (ten months).