Spinal and breast pain while nursing: Mastitis?

My baby is nine months old. Saturday night; my spine started to ache and then the next morning my left shoulder muscle and left arm ached. I felt tired and rested. By the next day the pain had radiated to my shoulder and into my breast tissue (left breast). I went to the doctor and he said I probably had a viral infection, but not a breast infection. My back really hurts, along with my breast. I feel really stiff. Do these sound like symptoms of mastitis?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

I'm sorry that you are experiencing such pain. It's frustrating when you feel that your Health Care Providers are not listening to you. When you are in pain, it is your body's message that something is wrong, and it is important to find out the cause.

From your description, it's impossible to tell whether or not you might have mastitis. With mastitis, a woman can feel very achy and experience flu-like symptoms, as you have had. Of course, this is a common symptom in many other illnesses. You haven't described any redness, distinct pain or inflammation in your breast, as is usually, but not always, present with mastitis. To be on the safe side, and rule out mastitis, ask your Health Care Provider to culture your milk and your baby's throat. This will tell them specifically what type of pathogen they are dealing with, if any, and will help to assure proper treatment.

Breast and spinal pain has many causes, other than mastitis.

Robert VanMetter, DC, a chiropractor in Brodheadsville Pennsylvania, states that, "in the absence of obvious breast inflammation (redness, swelling, warmth), breast pain can be of a spinal origin (with radiations into the arm) and often will be due to some spinal involvement in the upper back (thoracic area). The postural effects of breastfeeding can be hard on this spinal area (i.e. awkward positions such as in side-lying nursing), making this area prone to spinal subluxations."

If you are still experiencing discomfort through your spine, radiating into your breast and arm, and you have ruled out any other underlying medical conditions, you might find it very helpful to schedule an appointment with a chiropractor who can examine you, evaluate your condition, and rule out vertebral subluxations, correcting them if necessary through a spinal adjustment.

You mentioned that the pain followed on the heels of using a breastpump for the first time in 6 months. Certain breastpumps, like a bicycle horn pump, pumps with continuous suction, and pumps that have the suction adjusted to too high a level can cause breast pain and even injury to delicate breast tissue. Depending on the type of pump used, the action of operating a pump could also cause a stress-related injury.

Whatever the cause of your breast (and spinal) pain, it is very important that it be properly evaluated and treated. This is not only for your health and comfort, and to preserve the breastfeeding relationship, but to rule out any underlying medical condition. If necessary seek a second opinion. Wishing you good health!

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