Remi Peers just hit her first breastfeeding anniversary — it’s been, officially, one year since she began nursing her son.
The mom wants the world to know, though, that her breastfeeding journey has been anything but easy — the new mom suffered from mastitis, a painful infection that occurs when breast tissue becomes inflamed and a woman’s milk ducts are clogged, after feeling too embarrassed to pump or nurse in public.
Peers claims that despite the pervasive (and controversial) “breast is best” mantra, doctors never took the time to educate her on the potential challenges or dangers ahead. The result? She experienced a lot of anxiety that her body wasn’t working. “My milk came in after 5 days,” she wrote in a viral post on Instagram. “I wasn’t aware that it could take that long. While the other babies slept with full bellies, my son screamed and cried attached to my breast through the night.”
In the U.K., where Peers resides, breastfeeding isn’t common, she claims. She never had a support system of new moms to get her through cracked nipples, cluster feedings and the overarching pain of nursing. “The peddling of formula in the ’60s/’70s has broken the vital cycle of passing knowledge from one generation to the next,” she explained. “I know formula saves lives and serves a great purpose, but in the past we would have had our mothers, sisters, aunts and friends all giving their support, their wisdom and their knowledge. But many of our mothers and grand-mothers don’t know, as they never breastfed.”
That’s not something we can or should fault women for (how to feed your baby is intensely personal), but it does explain the education gap. So when Peers woke up at 3 a.m. one morning, shivering, and experienced excruciating pain as her son latched, she had no knowledge of the severe breastfeeding complication brewing beneath the surface. “I was shaking and sweating but freezing to my bones,” she wrote.
She says she consulted her stepdad, a doctor, who told her to take some medicine for her low-grade fever and try to sleep. Sleep never came for Peers. She says she was vomiting by morning and then her fever spiked. “I had developed sepsis overnight. This was because I was not able to recognize the subtle signs of mastitis,” she said.
The most glaring symptom of mastitis are red, inflamed breasts, as Peer’s photo demonstrates. Red breasts weren’t her first symptom, though — in fact, the redness didn’t come on until the other signs intensified. After being rushed to the hospital and given morphine, anti-nausea medicine and extra-strength antibiotics, she was stabilized. But she was separated from her son for two nights.
When in the hospital, Peers repeatedly asked for a pump, because if she couldn’t drain the breastmilk, the mastitis (and the pain) would intensify. “The nurse’s response was ‘We’re having trouble finding one as we don’t get many breastfeeding mothers here,'” Peers claimed.
Today, Peers feels no shame in breastfeeding or pumping publicly — emptying the breasts of milk (and treating cracked nipples before infection sets in) is important to preventing the condition, which, if caught early, is easily cured with antibiotics. She hopes that through her experience, new moms will demand answers from their health-care providers and reach out to women who have breastfed and can identify the red flags. “We just assume that [breastfeeding] will feel as natural as breathing,” she wrote. “It may be natural, but it does not always come naturally.”