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Does lifting weights cause mastitis? (With New Video Feature!)

Posted May 21 2009 11:52pm
I had another brush with mastitis this week. As frustrated as I am with the physical set back, I'm more frustrated that this is a recurring problem for me when my previous experiences with breastfeeding have come so easy. [Insert big sigh here.]

I've been on a mad quest to find out why I'm getting the plugged ducts (three so far) that can sometimes turn into an infection that whips the feet out from under me and leaves me in the path of the proverbial Mac truck. I've consulted two lactation consultants, my local La Leche League volunteer, a number of books in my home and local library, and Googled away. It's like trying to find Oz.

Essentially, it boils down to a lot of "could be." What I discovered is no one had the answer. No one could tell me exactly what was causing the problem or exactly what I could do to prevent it. I had to find Oz on my own. (Kind of like parenting in general, right?)

One recurring theme with all my resources is that mastitis can come on in a mom who is doing too much and/or under stress. I usually brush over this one. Anyone who is familiar with my normal level of activity knows that I am a sliver of myself postpartum. It is hard for me to believe I'm doing too much physically. But maybe, just maybe, (and I really hate considering this) this fraction of my normal activity is still too much.

And there is a strange coincidence. I have only been to my Barbell Strength class twice since giving birth. Both times I ended up with mastitis within 5 days. Curious. Could it be the weight-bearing exercise or simply that when I've been ready to go back to the class I've felt ready to take on more in general?

And then, while talking to the LLL leader this week (who happens to know me through a different connection) said, "I know you're active..." And I think, here it comes, she's going to tell me I'm doing too much..." But she goes on to say "There was a woman at our meeting last week who said when she lifts weights she gets mastitis."

Huh. My coincidence is someone else's coincidence?

So the next thing I do is Google "weightlifting and mastitis." Sure enough, I am not the only exercising mama who thinks there might be a connection (and the jury is still out, I only *think* there *might* be a connection). But on one particular message board a few breastfeeding and exercising mamas mentioned that when they did any weight bearing exercises in their chest, including push ups, they tended to get plugged ducts and/or mastitis.

Still, I don't want to believe this is the cause. Another explanation I'm considering includes my choice of bra. I tend to prefer sports bra over traditional nursing bras. Not my good  running bras (these are relatively new and are more tourniquet-like) but the bras I've had for 10 years or more, the ones that wouldn't even provide good support for a run at low tide. (If you're confused about that analogy, I'm at high tide right now.) But some of the sources say sports bras, even those with barely a thread of elastic in them, are not appropriate for nursing mothers. And, perhaps, it was suggested to me, I should get fitted for a bra, as opposed to grabbing what I think might fit during a mad dash to Super Target with four kids. How sensible.

The only other plausible cause is The Boy's erratic eating schedule. We go from the all-day, all-you-can-eat buffet to dainty snacking. Simply put, my boobs are confused.

Trying to narrow the cause and effect down is like trying to figure out a food allergy. Now I'm on an "elimination diet." For the time being I'm going to hold off on my Barbell Strength class, lay off sports bras and be vigilant about "draining the breast" as "they" say, even if it means using the dreaded breast pump. 

Yesterday I went to a fancy department store where a mature woman with glasses down her nose and a measuring tape around her neck inspected my chest. She took her measurements and proclaimed me a 34 D.

Say What? (For context I often have to search in the "Barely A" section.

"That can't be right," I say to her. "You need to check it again."

So she does.

Yes, she says, "I measure you at a D."

I am tempted to shout, Right on! And do a victory dance. After all, it is kind of fun for someone of typically small proportions to experiment with a nice rack without a boob job. Although, I should temper the celebration somewhat, since what I have are "boobs with flu-like symptoms."

But if this bra-fitting expert is right, then I am clearly wearing too-tight bras--even my threadbare, elastic-worn bras are too small. Go figure. So I bought myself a real nursing bra that fits.

In a couple of weeks I'm going to add back weight lifting to my routine. If a plugged duct emerges, I may give this whole "weight lifting can cause mastitis theory" more credibility.

What say you? Know the way to Oz? Any experience with this? Think it's bunk? Other possibilities? Anything else comes to mind when you hear "plugged duct?" I'll start with what my husband had to say when I shared all this information with him this morning:

He said: "Speaking of plugged ducts, there's a duck sitting on an egg in our backyard."

For real. He even took a video of the plugged duck.

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