Most new mothers experience Breast engorgement in the first week of breastfeeding. After you give birth, your body works hard to meet the nutrient needs of your baby. Between 2-5 days after delivery, your body starts producing milk. Your breasts begin to feel tender and fuller when the milk ‘comes in.’ All the excess blood and fluids that are needed to make milk are stored in breasts tissues making your breasts bigger and sometimes hard like a stone.
Breast engorgement can also happen later in your breastfeeding journey.
Here are some of the common reason why you might experience breast engorgement:
- Cluster feeding – When your baby hits a growth spurt, their appetite increases and they nurse continuously around the clock. Increased nursing tells your body to make more milk which can make your breasts temporarily swollen until the supply/demand gets stabilized.
- When you miss a feeding – Do you feel relieved when your baby starts sleeping longer hours? Are you planning to catch up with a friend for coffee? I suggest you pack a breast pump in your bag! Your body clock knows your breastfeeding schedule, regardless of whether your baby is up for nursing or not, your body gets the milk ready. It might take a while for your body to adjust to this new schedule and until then you can pump to relieve engorgement.
- When you start to wean – Some moms decide and wean their babies abruptly. Unfortunately, our body doesn’t stop producing milk instantly. I would advise to wean gently, try skipping one feed at a time so that your body has time to catch up on the cues and adapt as per the need.
Breast Engorgement, albeit painful, is very common and typically heals itself within a week. Engorgement is no reason to stop breastfeeding. In fact, this is when you should be nursing on time and on-demand. The most effective way to cure engorgement is by letting your baby empty your breasts. The more efficiently your baby does that, the better!
Breast engorgement can make it harder for your baby to latch on. When your breasts are hard and full, the nipples are flattened out, and hence your baby might struggle to latch correctly. Continuing to nurse with a bad latch will only result in sore nipples and probably an angry baby.
How can you treat Breast engorgement naturally?
Here are a few things you can try:
- Express with a Hand pump or hand express.
- Breastfeed on time or on-demand.
- Hot Compress to get the milk flowing.
- Cold compress to relieve engorgement and discomfort.
- Wear a well-supported Bra.
1.Express using Hand pump/ manually:
Now, remember not to drain your breast completely. This will only tell your body to make more milk, and we don’t want that. Just express a little to lessen discomfort. I found hand expressing less painful than using a pump. With manual expression, I can find lumps or clots in the breasts and gently massage over these spots to drain them. Also, when your breasts are super hard, using a pump can be crucifying. It is better to express slowly at your own pace manually. Hand expressing in the shower worked the best for me.
That’s probably not you wanted to hear. I know how much you want to give your breasts a break but continuing to breastfeed is the best for yourself and your baby. Within a few days, your body will stabilize milk supply according to your baby’s needs. Don’t be afraid to try different nursing positions to see what works better for you and your baby. Avoid introducing bottles /pacifiers to your baby, as this might create nipple confusion.
Applying heat to the breast gets the milk flowing and opens up clogged ducts. It can be difficult for your baby to latch correctly when your breasts are fuller and nipples are flattened out. I suggest applying a hot compress and hand expressing just before you plan to feed. This will relieve some of the stiffness from the breasts and makes it easier for your baby to latch. You can use hot compress pads, or a washcloth dipped in warm water.
Using cold compress helps relieve swelling and discomfort. You can use washcloth wrapped with ice cubes or even frozen bag of peas. Using cold compress between feeding can help mitigate pain. Many women swear by the power of cabbage leaves. Kelly Mom suggests using cabbage leaves for 20 minutes in between feedings, no more than thrice a day, to help with engorgement.
5.Wear a well-supported Bra :
With breasts as hard as a brick, a well-supporting bra is your best friend. Choose a well-fitted bra and avoid wearing tight-fitting bras.
Watch for any other symptoms like fever, chills or reddish swollen lumps on your breasts. I suggest you visit a doctor when you spot the said symptoms, as you might be developing mastitis (bacterial infection).
I hope that this answers all your questions about Breast Engorgement. You certainly don’t have to quit breastfeeding because of this painful episode. Keep in mind that breast engorgement takes a week to subside even if you choose to stop nursing. Continuing to breastfeed is the best for you and your baby.
Have you experienced breast engorgement? Let me know in the comment below what helped you through this phase.