Thursday, August 26, 2010

Breast abscess - my own true account


Photo courtesy of

The ultimate test came when I found out my mom’s fridge broke down. My frozen milk stash amounted to around 50 bags at the time. I suddenly discovered that they had all thawed to liquid form. I checked on the fish and chicken, they were also soft and wet. My dad had a repairman to check on the fridge, and indeed the 17-year-old fridge had broken down. I was devastated! Luckily I had some fresh, unfrozen milk that I kept in my mini bar fridge, but like I mentioned earlier, my supply was not that much since I was still leaking milk from the incision. I cried my heart out as I dumped them all in the trash. I was praying hard that my current milk supply would be sufficient for my boy. Nevertheless, my husband bought one small can of baby formula, just in case. Oh, and my parents bought a new fridge immediately so I started the all new journey building up my stock all over again.

Another heart breaking discovery – the doctor suggested that I take an injection to stop the milk flow, as my incision seemed unable to heal completely as the leaking milk created blisters in the incision. Furthermore, I had rashes on the area where the plasters met my skin, it became irritated and itchy. I simply couldn’t bring myself to stop and take the injection – my baby was barely two months old. I had been so determined to breastfeed him until he turns two. I was struggling not to drown in self-pity, trying to provide enough food for my baby, take care of my daughter (with lots of help from my parents) and trying to take care of myself. I called up my good friend for moral support and comfort, she even offered her milk stash to me (she was also a breastfeeding mom; thanks so much Ckin, you’re so sweet!) just in case mine was not enough. But above all, I missed my husband, my pillar of strength, the most during this difficult time. He was especially sweet, even though he couldn’t be with me all the time.

Miraculously, after a week and two dressing changes and perseverance with the strength of steel on my part, the doctor told me that the incision had closed and the milk had stopped leaking. There was a long scar, of course, but the blisters were gone. I had no idea how and what happened, but it was a tremendous relief. The doctor even said that I can try to breastfeed again, I just need to be a little careful not to strain the incision too much, as the flesh inside would take longer to heal properly.

After the last dressing change, I finally took a look at the scar. I never looked at it before, because I was too scared to see a gaping hole in my breast and thought that it might traumatize me some more. There it was, the long, dark line widening in the middle where the drainage was done. Mixed emotions washed over me; a little sad that I now had an ugly scar, but proud of myself that I didn’t give up breastfeeding. Sure, it had been a tough journey but I had survived it. I am proud to say that despite the breast abscess, my baby is 100% exclusively breastfed, until now. (Oh, the baby formula still sits unused in the kitchen. I should give it to someone else.)

I did rebuild my milk stash; take a look.

My breast milk is so abundant; it would have been enough if my daughter also feeds on my breast milk. After all, she was also a breastfed baby previously. But she seemed to have grasped the concept that breast milk is for her little brother, so she wouldn’t take it. So I’ve had to throw out a LOT of milk. I can actually get by without using the frozen stash because I’m producing way more than my baby consumes. I’m not showing off here; I guess it’s just a reward for my perseverance. I am so grateful, so thankful that I was able to continue breastfeeding my little boy. So I guess the saying is right – what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

To moms out there, if I’ve had breast abscess and still managed to breastfeed, you absolutely CAN do it. Sure, it’s not easy. Pumping, washing a LOT of bottles (I have about 40 bottles for my two kids, most of them for storing breast milk), storing and freezing and labeling milk, sorting the milk by the first-in-first-out basis – it’s a lot of tedious work. And the breastfeeding issues such as engorgement, latch on, painful/cracked/bleeding nipple, nipple preference, sore nipples – they can be solved, if you’re willing to work on it and have a little patience. Breast milk is the best gift you can give to your baby, better than a new stroller, new baby cot, new clothes, new toys. I don’t need to tell you the benefits of breast milk, I’m pretty sure you know already them. And best of all, it’s free! Think how much you can save on baby formula, which in turn you can spend on yourself. Ha. Gotcha there.

Photo courtesy of

Breast abscess - my own true account


The surgery turned out to be, nothing to be scared of. I have to admit, I was scared as I changed into the gown especially for surgery, lied down on the metal bed, and was pushed to the operation theatre. I was even more scared when they put me underneath all the lights, right next to metal tables where you can see all the medical equipment, just like in House. Then the surgeon told me to relax, as he put a mask over my face. I don’t even remember getting drowsy. The next thing I know, I woke up on the metal table, but all the lights were gone. I don’t feel any different than before and I wondered, is it over? What am I doing here? Then two nurses came over and began pushing my bed to my room, and I saw my husband sitting there watching tv.

The first day after the surgery went by drowsily, as I was still on painkillers. The affected breast was totally wrapped up in bandages which the nurse called dressing, so I could only express milk from my right breast. I was a bit worried because I don’t know how this surgery would affect my milk production, but I know that I still need to express to avoid any more engorgement. I had some milk stash in the freezer and about 10 bottles of unfrozen milk, which I think should be enough to last for my baby until I was discharged. Only the next day a nurse changed the dressing to expose just enough skin and the areola so that I can pump.

The surgeon later told me that the incision was 4 inches long and was quite deep because there was a considerable amount of pus. I shuddered to think I have 4-inch scar on my breast. Oh dear.. In the morning I was due to be discharged, the surgeon gave me more painkillers to knock me out so he could change the dressing. I was discharged in the afternoon after being told I was to come in twice weekly for dressing change.

Photo courtesy of

And so, the emotional rollercoaster began. Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t fully healed from the pain of childbirth and hemorrhage, now I have another painful body part to add to the group. Oh, and did I mention that the incision was not stitched up? That was the purpose of the dressing, to absorb all the milk that leaked out, while letting the incision heal by itself from the outside in. Close to the dressing change day, I already smelled like sour milk. Pumping was a pain in the **s. The bandages were quite wide and it covered almost the whole underside of my breast. So, to pump, I have to press the breast shield harder into the breast tissue (which is partially covered with the bandages) in order not to break suction. And, because of the leaking milk, the most I can pump out of my left breast is about 1 oz, which is downright depressing.

In addition to that, I have to be careful not to strain myself and pull at the arm and shoulder muscles, because damn, it hurts. I was too traumatized to try and breastfeed, even from the unaffected right breast, because I was worried that my baby might accidentally knock the bandage with his cute little arms or legs. Even breastfeeding while lying down on my side hurts as it puts pressure on the incision, so I thought I’d just stop breastfeeding for a while and just give him expressed milk in a bottle, hoping to God that he won’t develop nipple preferences for the bottle.

This wasn’t as easy as I thought, especially when it came to night feedings. I didn’t want my milk supply to drop, so I’d have to pump in the wee hours of the morning too. I was pumping about 10 times a day at the time, I was thinking of having the breast shields permanently stuck to my nursing bra. (The only bra I can wear is FabulousMom’s Sarah Sleep Bra, so I bought 4 of them!) Luckily, my husband bought a mini bar fridge to put next to my bed (thanks so much, honey!), so I can easily wake up in the middle of the night and warm up a bottle of milk, instead of going downstairs to the main fridge. So every night before I went to bed, I would prepare at least 3 bottles of milk ready to be warmed up in a jiffy. I would pump before going to bed, wake up to feed him when he cries, then when he’s done and dozed off, I would pump. Instead of breastfeed by demand, I would pump by demand. Same difference, really. I was doing all this on auto-pilot, like a pre-set robot. But robots don’t get tired, whereas I was left exhausted and cranky due to the lack of sleep.

Then there was twice weekly dressing change (which was done painkiller-free), which I totally despised, but totally necessary. So I gritted my teeth and wiped my tears all the way, and butted my head through them all. The doctor would take off the old bandages, clean the incision, poke it here and there, put some ointment on it, cover it up with new bandages and pronounce me good for another week. For the first three weeks, I came out of the doctor’s office with my face tear-streaked, my eyes red and my fists all white because I was clenching them so hard. My husband tried to arrange to come home on every dressing change, but he couldn’t exactly come home twice weekly. So when he couldn’t come with me, he would call me after the doctor visit with words of love and encouragement, which helped a lot.

Breast abscess - my own true account

Previously I said that I'm saving this story for another day. So here it is. But be warned: this is a rather long post. I've broken the whole story into 3 parts, so take your time. :)


It all started with the all-too-common breast engorgement in the early days after giving birth. Unlike most mothers whose milk “came in” three of four days after birth, my came in right after the birth. This could be due to the reason that I was still breastfeeding my 1-year-old daughter when I discovered I was pregnant for the second time. A few months along the pregnancy, when my daughter was around 14 or 15 months old, I decided to wean her off the breast completely because I was too tired to cope with the night feedings and the pumping.

The first 3 days at the hospital right after the birth of our son, the feedings were going on fine. Maybe because I’d just stop breastfeeding several months before, so I did not have too much problems breastfeeding my son. He seems to be latching on fine, too, that the lactation counselors gave high praises to me as the “expert” breastfeeding mom, though I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert. I had my share of problems too, only it got much better with experience later on.

I spent my confinement days at my parent’s house in Johor Bahru, which is 4 hours away from home. My husband would come and visit us on weekends. I don’t remember exactly when the engorgement started, it was probably the second week after the birth. I had the usual symptoms such as tender lumps, warmth and throbbing, the tightening of the skin, making it hard for my baby to latch on. Also, I came down with fever so many times, I lost count of the number. I tried nursing my baby often, which was challenging because sometimes he just could not latch on! This would usually end up with a) my baby screaming right in front of my nipple, or b) my baby screaming right in front of my nipple and me sweating profusely and almost in tears. Sometimes I just gave up, passed him to my mom and warmed up a bottle of expressed milk.

The engorgement did not disappear. I tried using cabbage leaves. I expressed more times. I tried both hot and cold compresses. I tried hand expression, breast compression and massage. Then one day, I was getting dressed, when I felt a hard lump on the underside of my left breast, which was painful when I pressed my fingers on it and felt warm. I told my mom about it. She told me that she had a lump too, when she was younger. Her gynae told her that it was not cancerous and had it removed in a minor operation. But she said that hers felt nothing like mine; it was small, hard and not painful at all. I was getting worried. I called my husband and he urged me to see a doctor immediately. I didn’t go immediately, but kept on trying to relieve the engorgement by myself. I told myself to wait until the next week.

The next week came and I was still in pain, and keep coming in and out of fevers. Finally I couldn’t ignore it any longer, so my parents took me to a clinic. She asked me to lie down and take off my bra. She took a look at it and said “oh, this looks like breast abscess.” She said the lump was red and swelling, which explained the warmth. She gave me antibiotics and asked me to come back in three days time if the pain had not subsided, in which case she would need to refer me to a surgeon.
This is how an abscess looks. (That's not me, by the way.)

Photo courtesy of
Okay, right about then, I was freaked out! I never had any surgery in my life and have been admitted to hospital wards only for childbirth, so you can imagine how I was feeling at the time. After the three days was up, I surrendered to the fact that I had to go and have my breast cut open. The doctor referred me to a surgeon at a specialist hospital. The doctor was an Indian-Muslim gentleman, about my dad’s age and gently told me to admit myself to the hospital ward the next day. He scheduled the surgery which he called incision and drainage for the day after tomorrow, 10 am. I called my husband telling him about the surgery and he promised to come home so he could be with me before the surgery starts.

My mom would have to look after both my kids during the nights I was at the hospital. My mom was not exactly young at 64, and I felt a little guilty that she would have to care for a 20-month old girl and a 1-month old baby boy, knowing that my dad was not much of a help in the middle of the night. My little girl still wakes up at night occasionally in addition to the baby’s night feedings. I told my husband to stay at home so he could take care of my daughter, leaving my mom to care for my son only. But my mom told him to stay at the hospital with me. And I can’t pretend that I wasn’t grateful that my husband was keeping me company at the hospital. It is unbelievably depressing to be lying down in a hospital bed after a surgery all alone.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Apples of my eye

Hey there!

It’s been a year since my last post. With a toddler and a baby under my belt, I’ve been pretty busy at home & and work. A LOT of things have happened, but I won’t reveal everything in one post because that would make this post extremely, painfully, undeniably long, that people would get an eye strain just trying to get through it.

So, first things first. Here’s the new addition to the family.
This is Aliff at 1 ½ months old. For those of you who can’t tell, he’s a bouncing baby boy. He’s in a pink cot with a pink pillow beside him because those belonged to his sister, Aliah. I bought the blue pillow underneath his head later on to show that he’s a boy, haha. I am so proud to say that he is exclusively breastfed (he’s 9 months old now) despite me contracting breast abscess a month after giving birth.

So my maternity leave was extended because I had a minor operation called incision and drainage to get rid of abscess and was given another month for hospitalization leave. On the bright side, I got to stay home longer with my baby. On the downside, I was in excruciating, multiple pains; I wasn’t fully healed from the pain of childbirth when I contracted the abscess, and I was still experiencing hemorrhage. I was physically exhausted, and I’ve gone through childbirth only twice. Oh well.

In spite of the incision and drainage, the major drop in my milk supply, the breakdown of my mom’s fridge (I already had about 50 bags of frozen milk stash for stock. I had to throw them all out, and start all over again.), which in turn, broke my heart, the excruciating pain of trying to pump from the affected breast and only getting 1 oz, the extremely painful dressing changes twice a week when the doctor cleaned the wound (without painkillers!), the tears that flow, I managed to continue pumping. And when the wound healed, I was able to breastfeed again. But that is another story for another day.

Fast forward to 9 months later, here’s the little boy.

And here they are together, sister and brother. Sitting peacefully on the couch. At the moment. Wearing the new Busha leggings I bought them. Hehe.

Aliah was baffled that I wanted to take photos of her bum! Who can resist such cute bums? Hehe.

I’ll keep it short and sweet today. Brainstorming for ideas here.
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