Engorged Breasts

image001 When your milk comes in about two to six days after giving birth, it is completely normal for your breasts to feel heavy, larger, warmer, and even uncomfortable. In most cases, however, it won’t last for over 24 hours. When normal fullness occurs, both your areola and breast will be elastic and soft with a normal milk flow and no affects to latch-on. If your breasts are engorged, this is when they are painfully overfilled with milk. Most of the time it is due to an imbalance between your infant’s demand and your milk supply. It is a common reason moms give for stopping breastfeeding earlier than desired.

What Should I Know About Engorged Breasts?

Within the first week after giving birth, your breasts might feel hot, throbbing, tender, swollen, and lumpy or hard. In some cases, the swelling will go to the armpit and include a temperature. Within a day or two, your breasts will soften up, allowing you to feel more comfortable.

Breast milk comes in two to six days after giving birth and during this time there is increased blood flow to the breasts. This causes some surrounding tissue to swell, so the breasts are swollen and occasionally engorged. In some cases, the engorgement happens later on when your baby starts to eat solid foods as he/she will breastfeed less or lower quantities.

Not all moms will have engorged breasts; some women only notice a slight fullness, while others notice their breasts becoming hard and big. The extreme fullness normally eases as soon as your baby can latch on well and feeds on demand long enough to meet his/her needs.

What Causes Engorged Breasts?

In some cases, engorgement is due to not being able to nurse your child as frequently as needed for your breasts to fully drain right after giving birth. Even if you are only producing a small amount of milk right away, it is still important. For some women, this is not a factor and they will become engorged regardless of how often or well their new baby breastfeeds.

Other times, engorgement is due to milk ducts being obstructed. One reason for this to occur would be if you had breast augmentation and as a result the implants take up too much room, not leaving enough space for the increase in milk, lymph, and blood. Constantly wearing a too tight bra can also obstruct the ducts.

How to Ease Engorged Breasts

1. For Nursing Mums

Easing engorged breasts is different for those who are nursing and those who are not. Nursing moms should try:

  • Using a warm compress before they nurse and then a cold one after.
  • Oddly enough, putting chilled cabbage leaves on top of your breasts (with a nipple opening) can help soothe them. You can also get cooling bra inserts.
  • You can relieve a small amount of pressure by using your pump or hand to express milk. Only express a small amount, as your body will make more milk, the more that is expressed (or consumed by your baby).
  • Gently massage your breasts while you nurse, so the milk flows.
  • Change the position you hold your baby in, so all of the milk ducts get emptied.
  • Check that your bra fits correctly so that it is snug and supportive without being too tight.
  • The most important thing is to feed your baby fairly frequently.
  • If you have severe pain, ask your doctor for a mild pain reliever or try acetaminophen.

2. For Mums Not Nursing

Moms who aren’t nursing could:

  • Wear a bra that fits snugly
  • Avoid milk expression or nipple stimulation
  • Soothe discomfort with ice packs

No matter whether or not you are nursing, you can use acetaminophen or a similar medication to get some relief. Also keep in mind that the engorgement won’t last long and soon you can enjoy breastfeeding your new baby.

Important Notes:

If you have a temperature of more than 101 or develop flu like symptoms or localized pain, talk to your doctor. Breastfeeding should continue even in cases where you get a breast infection.

Want to get more information about how to treat breast engorgement? Check out the video below:

How to Prevent Engorged Breasts

Not all moms will experience breast engorgement after giving birth. It can range from only a slight feeling of fullness to large and hard breasts. To reduce your chances of developing engorged breasts, you can try doing the following things:

  • Try to breastfeed two hours (or less) after giving birth. The delivery and labor team can help you if necessary.
  • Breastfeed frequently, aiming to do so eight to twelve times each day after the first day. During the first day you should offer your nipple to your baby, but don’t be concerned if he doesn’t nurse eight times. Pay close attention to cues your baby is giving for hunger. You can encourage him/her to breastfeed by snuggling him/her with his/her skin right against yours. To ensure that you feed your baby regularly, wake him/her up if it has been over three hours since the last time he/she fed.
  • Always let your baby end nursing with one breast before moving him/her to the other. In most cases, it will take ten to twenty minutes for this to happen. If the baby doesn’t nurse for ten minutes, then ask an expert if you should pump while waiting for your baby to nurse for longer periods of time. If your baby is full after nursing on one breast and won’t go to the other side, simply start on that one next time.
  • Try not to introduce a pacifier or bottle before your baby is one month old unless you need to. Sucking on these items uses different muscles, so it may make it harder for your baby to nurse.
  • If you supplement feedings using a bottle, be sure to use pumped milk to keep your milk production up. If you use formula, always express by hand or with a pump when giving the formula for the same reason.
  • If your child doesn’t nurse well at a particular feeding or you miss one, express by hand or with a pump, so the milk comes out to encourage milk production.

Here is a video to tell you more about how to avoid engorged breasts: