The first few days after birthing, a new mother’s breasts secrete colostrum – the absolute must for a newborn for all its immune properties. Colostrum is produced just in the right amount, and gradually, thicker, rich milk begins to come in. Having larger and heavier breasts after the first 5-6 days of child birth is a normal occurrence and causes a feeling of fullness in the breasts. Apart from the milk, the fullness may occur also due to blood and other liquids in the breast tissues. Usually, this condition eases out in first two to three weeks, when the body adjusts to a supply-demand mechanism – retaining a good amount of milk for the baby.
What Is Breast Engorgement?
Many women think or struggle with low milk supply in the initial days. But in some cases, breasts might feel firm uneasy, painful, lumpy, or constantly pounding. These signs direct to the possibility that one might have engorged breasts. Apart from the ones already discussed, engorged breasts can have these possible problems too-
- Painful swelling that exceeds till the armpits
- Fever and other sicknesses
- As the breasts get harder, baby might face a hard time during breastfeeding due to latching troubles
- Extremely painful nipples and reduced milk supply
There is no one answer to why this occurs. But mostly, the breasts might become engorged if you are not able to empty your breasts in the first few days of your baby’s birth. Frequent breastfeeding is immensely important for your and baby’s health.
How Long Does Breast Engorgement Lasts?
For some women, the body quickly adjusts to the supply and demand mechanism, and they may experience breast fullness only for a day or two. But for some other women, engorgement may be lasting for two weeks for more. While some women get a good milk supply earlier and experience swelling and pain. This can make early breastfeeding a difficult period, and though breastfeeding pains and discomforts are common, breast engorgement could further lead to other problems. However, the breasts will soon adjust given some time, making the right amount of milk for the baby.
10 Effective Treatments For Relieving Engorged Breasts
Well, truly speaking, it is the baby’s work to help and remove the breast milk to save the mother from engorged breasts. But it is obviously not smart to rely on baby in case the problem persists. So, here are certain steps that the mother can take to relieve the engorged breasts.
- Start early: Begin breastfeeding as soon as possible, before the breasts become firmer and difficult to latch on for the baby. This helps the baby learn to breastfeed sooner and become comfortable with the process. Unless medically necessary, use of bottles and pacifiers should be avoided
- Frequently nursing the baby: The best way to treat breast engorgement is to frequently nurse or breastfeed the baby. Ideally, a baby should be nursed at least 8 times in 24 hours. If need arises, one may even wake the baby to breastfeed. This would ensure that breasts are emptied frequently not leading to a build-up and the baby learns to latch properly
- Hot water shower: Breastfeeding with engorged breasts can be difficult because a smooth supply of the available milk is hampered. And to ease out this flow one could run hot water or take hot shower few minutes before breastfeeding. However, ensure that you do not run hot water on the breasts for more than 5 minutes. In case a hot shower is not possible, just apply moist heat on the breasts for few minutes each time before breastfeeding. Whereas remember not to expose your breasts to heat for very long period as it can increase the engorging
- Cold compresses: Apart from that, in case the engorging is extremely painful, cold compresses for 15-20 minutes can also be applied soon after the feeding. Remember, not to apply ice directly on the skin, one may apply wrapped frozen peas or corn ice wrapped in a clean, soft washcloth
- Gentle massage: The breasts become tight and firm when engorged. And to gain a smooth milk flow, it is inevitable to make them lose again. Therefore, a gentle breast massage and advised relaxation techniques may be applied frequently for short-short intervals. And even during the breastfeeding, one should keep compressing the breasts when baby takes small intervals in between. This compression makes sure that lesser milk is left behind. This reduces the chances of engorging
- Choosing correct intimate wear: Sometimes, your choice of the bra might be the root cause of the entire problem. An ill-fitted, uncomfortable, underwire and overly tight bra might make it harder for your breasts to breathe. Therefore choosing a soft and supportive nursing bra is extremely essential. In fact some women even go bra-less to avoid engorging or to treat engorging
- Use of breast pump: To improve latching for the baby, usage of hand expression and pumping is also highly recommended. As pumping can make nipple and areola soft, thus latching becomes better. Apart from that, some women admit that that just one use of breast pump relieved them from pain caused by engorged breasts. Once the pain is managed, one can easily return to feeding as the primary way of controlling engorging. Also pumping can save from the unwanted outcomes of the retained milk as it helps in emptying the breasts properly without causing any harm. You could also try expressing milk by hand, incase a pump is not available
- In case the baby doesn’t breastfeed: In various individual cases, problems may occur if the baby is premature, too weak or reluctant to breastfeeding. In such cases, hospital grade pumps are provided to the mothers to prevent themselves from engorging, till the baby is ready to breastfeed
- Cabbage leaves: Some mothers reportedly find relief by using cold cabbage leaves. The accepted way is to crush the veins and place several leaves on the breasts, exposing the nipples. Now, allow your bra to hold them in place. Leave them there for half an hour or so and allow it to show its magic. Though it isn’t clear yet that relief is obtained due to some element present in the leaves or is it just the cold leaf that’s doing the magic. But it has been accepted as a good way of treating engorged breasts
- Effective medication: In case of extreme pain and inflammation, it is advisable to visit your healthcare expert and ask about taking Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). These medications must be taken only with prescription as they might also enhance the pain
Breast engorgement needs to be dealt with because it could send signals to the body to produce less milk, and prolonged engorgement can significantly affect breastfeeding. Sometimes, to may lead to early weaning as well. If the pain persists even after trying every measure and treatment, then you need to be alarmed and visit your medical advisor on an urgent basis. A fever higher than 101° F could be indicative of a breast infection – like mastitis.