Professional Tips To Prevent And Treat Engorgement
Breastfeeding engorgement is an all too common problem among new mothers.
It can start as early as 2 days after birth when your milk comes in. Some moms experience it throughout their breastfeeding journey.
And wow is it uncomfortable!
This article is all about what you can do to avoid engorgement and treat it if you’re breastfeeding!
What is engorgement?
Engorgement is a fancy name for too much fluid in your breasts. It’s usually milk but in the first few weeks, increased circulation to your breasts also contributes. Your breasts become over-full and uncomfortable.
Breastfeeding with engorgement can be difficult. When your breasts are over-full, it’s more difficult for your baby to latch. They cannot compress your breast as easily because your breasts are full and taught. When your baby doesn’t nurse effectively to extract the milk, engorgement gets worse. Your breasts become extremely full and uncomfortable.
What Causes Breastfeeding Engorgement?
Your body gets ready for breastfeeding immediately after birth. It takes a few days for your mature milk to come in. When it does there’s a large increase of fluid in your breasts. Your blood is getting used to providing your breasts with fluids to successfully breastfeed. Breast milk fills your milk ducts, ready to feed your baby.
Leaving your breasts too long without extracting milk also causes engorgement. This can happen at any point along your breastfeeding journey. When your breasts fill up with milk they become engorged and uncomfortable. That’s why it’s so important to empty your breasts (feed your baby) regularly.
Signs And Symptoms of Breastfeeding Engorgement
- Fullness in your breasts. You will feel the excess fluid in your breasts when you become engorged. It will feel like your breasts are heavy, like they are full of fluid.
- Tight, taught skin over your breasts. Breastfeeding engorgement causes the skin over your breasts to be taught. When your milk ducts fill with fluid, the skin over your breasts stretches to accommodate. It feels tight and can be uncomfortable.
- Breast pain and warmth. Your breasts might feel warm to the tough with breastfeeding engorgement. It’s also very uncomfortable and may be painful. Engorgement causes inflammation in your breasts which leads to the feelings of warmth and pain.
- Lumps under your arms near your breasts. You may feel lumps in your underarms. That is breast tissue, filling up with milk. Some women have more of this underarm tissue than others. With time it will go down as the breastfeeding engorgement subsides.
- Baby has difficulty latching. With engorgement, the combination of over-full breasts and taught skin can make it hard for your baby to latch. They can’t compress the breast tissue enough of take a big enough “bite” to breastfeed effectively.
- Fever and muscle aches. When you become too engorged your body may respond by feeling like you have a cold. It’s similar to when you have a stuffy runny nose – except it’s in your breasts. Your body recognizes it and responds in the same way it would to a cold.
Tips To Prevent And Treat Engorgement
1. Feed Frequently
Getting that milk moving is the best way to treat breastfeeding engorgement… and to prevent it in the first place! Since engorgement is a result of too much fluid in your breasts, keeping the fluid moving is a fantastic solution. Feed your baby frequently, whenever then show signs of hunger.
Your baby may want to eat frequently – sometimes every 20 minutes! That’s normal for a new baby so go ahead and let them nurse often. It will help you prevent engorgement and establish a good milk supply.
2. Soften Your Breast
This is a trick to help your baby latch on to your breast better. Remember over-fullness and tightening can make it hard for them to grab on!
Try to massage your breasts and get the milk moving – so it isn’t as congested and stagnant. Then you can actually move the milk away from the area that your baby needs to latch on to. Try rubbing your breast from your nipple towards your chest wall a few inches. Basically the spot where your baby’s mouth goes.
If you can move the milk away from where your baby is going to latch, you’ll soften the breast. Your baby will be able to latch and remove milk more effectively.
3. Express Milk Before Feeding
This is another way to help soften your breast for your baby to latch on. You can either hand express or breast pump to extract milk before latching your baby. It’ll help relieve some of the fullness in your breasts and give your baby a little bit of give when latching on.
When expressing before a feeding, only do a small amount. You want to relieve just enough that your baby can latch effectively. Doing more than this can leave you with too little milk in your breasts. Your baby might have a more difficult time feeding if they start the feeding without enough milk.
There’s a happy medium here. Express just enough to soften your breasts and allow your baby to latch… but not too much!
4. Express a Small Amount For Relief
If your breasts are screaming at you and leaving you totally miserable, express a little bit to relieve the pressure. It’s ideal to breastfeed your baby (achieving the same thing). But maybe your baby is extra sleepy today or isn’t breastfeeding long enough to give you relief.
You can express some milk to take the pressure and pain away.
Don’t express too much though! Milk supply is dependent on demand. If you express a large amount of milk, your body is getting the signal that it needs to produce more. It might feel GOOD to get all the milk out… but you’ll have problems in a few days!
Over-expressing can result in oversupply. That in turn leads to engorgement because there is too much milk being made for your baby to eat. It will accumulate and lead to breastfeeding engorgement.
Pressure actually gives your body the signal to decrease milk production. So even though it’s uncomfortable, a little pressure is a good thing. It will help your body regulate to the amount of milk that your baby actually needs. So express a little bit for some relief, but don’t overdo it!
5. Use Cool Cabbage Leaves
Engorgement is an inflammatory process. It produces heat and pain which will respond well to cold things. Cabbage leaves are the oldest trick in the book for dealing with breastfeeding engorgement.
A head of cabbage isn’t very expensive! Peel off a cool leaf and place it over your breast. You can put it inside your bra, and wow does it offer cool relief. The great news is that a whole head of cabbage has LOTS of leaves on it! Whenever you want to replace the one you have, just rips off another leaf. Cabbage leaves are soothing and help reduce inflammation from engorgement.
You can also use anything cool, cabbage leaves are just recommended because of their shape. If you want to try an ice pack or bag of frozen peas they will achieve a similar result. Basically treat engorgement with cool applications to the breasts.
6. Wrap Breasts If Weaning
If you are engorged because you’re weaning or because you’ve decided you don’t want to breastfeed, wrap your breasts.
Pressure in your breasts gives your body the signal to produce less milk. When you wrap your breasts, you prevent large amounts of fluid from entering your milk ducts. Some will still inevitably become full but the added pressure of the wrap will tell your body it doesn’t need milk.
It may take up to 10 days for the engorgement to completely go away, but wrapping your breasts gives your body a clear signal to reduce milk production.
Engorgement When Weaning
You may experience engorgement when you discontinue breastfeeding. That’s also true if you decide not to breastfeed – engorgement will hit when your milk comes in.
If you decide to wean, it’s best to do it gradually. Drop one feeding at a time, and only every 2-3 days. Decreasing slowly will help your body adjust to the reduction in milk output. It gives your breasts time to reduce milk production gradually.
You can completely avoid engorgement while weaning if you go at it slow. It might take 2-3 weeks but in the long run the time spend might be worth it. Breastfeeding engorgement is not fun.
If you experience chills or a fever that last longer than a couple of days, contact your primary health care physician. Mastitis is a potential complication from engorgement at sometimes needs antibiotics to treat.
If you stop breastfeeding cold-turkey, you can pump or hand express to help relieve some of the pressure. Don’t express too much because your body still needs the message to decrease production. But giving yourself some relief helps avoid problems like mastitis… not to mention it gives you some comfort!
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own breastfeeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their breastfeeding journey. She offers one-on-one lactation consultations, breastfeeding classes, and shares her knowledge to equip and empower moms. If you’re interested in talking with her or taking one of her breastfeeding classes, visit www.littlebearcare.com.