I have always been rather fond of my boobs. They're kind of big, but they fit my frame and they've paid for their fair share of beers along the way. I guess that's why I feel so awful about all I've put them through lately.
Just a couple days after we brought our Biggest Girl home from the hospital, we ended up back in the hospital because she was jaundiced to the point that she needed to hang out on the Billy Bed for a bit. The hospital stay wasn't all bad--we got to stay in the room with her and the room had a jacuzzi, so that was nice. My hormones were all out of whack and I was sweating like crazy, turning the air-conditioner down more and more as the days went by. On our last day there, though, just as we were about to check out, my own health kept us there an hour or two longer. In the shower, I had noticed that my boobs looked weird. They had huge red streaks and lumps and they looked like implants gone bad. Mastitis. In both breasts. Sweet. It wasn't my hormones making me sweaty, it was a fever. And I wasn't only run down because I had just given birth, I was fighting off a pretty gnarly infection.
Mastitis is, in my case, a clogged milk duct that gets infected. It can also be caused by germs that enter through cracked nipples (isn't this fun?). I was put on antibiotics and told to nurse as often as possible to help work the infection out of the clogged ducts. I was also told to rest, but I was bad and didn't do as much of that as I should have. I took baths and draped hot washcloths over the very obvious location of the infection--that provided so much relief. It took about a week for the infection to clear and I have remained ever-vigilant since, watching closely and nursing like crazy at the first sign of a clogged duct.
The antibiotics did their job on the mastitis, but they also did a number on both the baby and me. We both got thrush. Actually, I think she got it first and then gave it to me. Her mouth and my nipples were all victims of this painful yeast infection. My nipples felt like they were on fire and I actually yelped out loud when she latched on to eat. Her poor little mouth was all bumpy and she had trouble eating. We were miserable. After two rounds of Nystatin failed to resolve the situation, we moved to Gentian Violet for her and Lotrimin for me. That knocked it out and we've been good ever since. Again, though, I am vigilant, keeping a close eye on both of us for any sign of recurrence.
Those were the two big, lame boob-related things that happened to us. Fortunately, they happened early in the game, so I learned very quickly that I need to provide my boobs with the best care available. They are, after all, responsible for sustaining life and who wouldn't want to be pampered after working so hard on a job like that? Though I haven't needed it much, I still keep a tube of Lansinoh on hand. Even the slightest bit of chafing can make feeding uncomfortable, so keep your nipples happy.
Mastitis and thrush can occur pretty much anytime. Though mastitis is most common in the earliest days of breastfeeding, it's also known for rearing its foul little head during weaning, as well. This can be troublesome--the best way to help rid the breast of the infection is to pump or nurse, but if you're trying to wean...well, that's just the opposite of what you want.
Long story short: keep an eye on your boobs. Have your husband/partner/neighbor help you if you need to, but don't neglect them. They've been so good to you and, if you're breastfeeding, so good to the baby. Drive your doctors and nurses crazy if you need to, but make sure you ask about anything that seems even remotely unusual. If I hadn't asked the nurse to take a quick look before we checked out of the hospital the second time, things would have been much worse by the time I finally realized something was really wrong.
I suppose there will be a Part Three someday: "What happens after you're done nursing". I can already tell you that your boobs will never be the same. I stand in the shower, watching my nipples as they feverishly race toward my belly button and I understand now how both WonderBra and plastic surgeons everywhere stay in business, even during tough economic times.