"I was in so much pain, my armpits were filled up, and my breasts were huge," the woman explained.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 28, 2022. It has since been updated.
The body goes through many ups and downs during pregnancy and childbirth. Things don't always automatically return to normal after delivery, and healing can take time. At times, some side-effects start emerging only a few days or weeks after delivery.
Linda Jones, a 39-year-old mother who just gave birth to triplets, is revealing a rather unusual and very painful side effect of breastfeeding—swollen armpits. On January 10, 2022, Jones became a mom to three beautiful babies at 34 weeks gestation, after being admitted to the hospital for high blood pressure. While her babies were being observed in the NICU, Jones tried to pump some milk for them.
"The first couple times I tried to pump I got some colostrum," Jones told TODAY, referring to the first form of breast milk produced by a lactating parent. "And then after that, nothing was happening. The lactation specialist told me, 'Oh, just keep pumping. It'll come in. It'll come in.' So I still kept pumping every 2-3 hours. But I was just pumping air — there was nothing happening."
After about two days of pumping, Jones said she felt her breasts feel fuller and heavier. But on day three, she knew for sure something was wrong. "I was in so much pain, my armpits were filled up, and my breasts were huge," she explained. "Just rock hard."
She learned that her pits were actually filled with breast milk. It is a little known—but not uncommon—side effect of engorgement, which is when an increase in blood flow and milk supply to the breasts causes swelling, tenderness, and pain.
Jones, however, decided to keep it real and document her condition on TikTok, where it soon went viral. "I think it's really important to put it out there, that this could be a side effect or that this is a possibility and what could happen," Jones adds. "You want people to know the good parts of parenting, but you kind of also want people to know the bad parts. And this isn't the best part of having a child, but I think it'd be important to put it out there and talk about it."
@keepin.up.with.3joneses So proud of my MLs #colostrum #exclusivepumping #tripletsoftiktok #delivery #hospital #momsoftiktok #breastfeed #pumpingmom #nicu #nicustrong #milk ♬ Level Up - Ciara
Meanwhile, a doctor has weighed in on what exactly causes engorged armpits. Dominique Weiss, a registered nurse, explained that breast or mammillary tissue actually extends all the way into our armpits, which is what caused Jones's armpits to swell.
Basically, lobules are milk-producing clusters in the body, and a lactating parent will typically have between 15 and 20 lobules per breast, says Weiss. "In this mom's case, she clearly has lobules in her underarm area," she adds. "All women have lobules, but the distribution is unique to us. Just like we're all different, and everyone has a different cup size and breast shape, the distribution of the lobules can be different as well."
However, Weiss added that the number of lobules is not based on breast size, but rather genetics. So while Jones had to experience immense pain and discomfort as a side-effect of breastfeeding, not every woman will face the same issue.
@keepin.up.with.3joneses #engorged #update #pumping #exclusivepumping #postpartum #milk #lactation #breastfeeding #tripletmom #preemie #newborn #momlife #birthcontrol #armpit ♬ Sunny Day - Ted Fresco
Maternal health expert Jada Shapiro revealed there are a number of treatments for lactation engorgement. "Cold compresses on the breast and armpits, and very limited touching of the armpit tissue to discourage any activity and stimulation there, which can increase swelling," Shapiro said. "Frequent feeding of the baby to reduce engorgement (also helps)."
However, if a lactating parent has a fever, red streaking, or very painful lumps, then they must immediately consult a doctor. "If the parent is unsure, they should call their midwife or doctor to rule out mastitis," she explains, "and connect to a lactation consultant for professional advice."
As for the engorgement, Weiss says only time will reduce the size of the swelling. "What will happen over the next six weeks, her body will see which lobules are being emptied," she explains. "It's essentially the law of supply and demand. Thankfully, our breasts aren't capitalists; they're not going to withhold the supply. They're really going to give us what we're asking for."
Meanwhile, both Weiss and Shapiro say that it is perfectly safe to continue breastfeeding when you're experiencing painful engorgement, though Weiss stresses that continuing is entirely up to the lactating parent.
"It's such a personal decision," Weiss says. "What I've experienced, as a lactation consultant, is a mother's desire to breastfeed is going to determine her tenacity. And there's a guilt factor in not wanting to do it or stopping. So I think the most important thing is that moms examine if they really want to breastfeed. If you say, 'No, I don't like it, it's too hard, it hurts' — stop. We have enough solutions, we have so many different types of formula, to feed our babies."
Cover Image Source: TikTok | Linda Jones (@keepin.up.with.3joneses)