What is Breast Engorgement? How Can You Relieve the Symptoms?

breast engorgement

Some new moms can have breast engorgement during the initial few days of milking after birth. This is a temporary condition and can be easily treated. Read this post if you are going through the same or would like to have first-hand knowledge.

What is breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement is basically swelling, which makes the breasts tender and painful. It is usually caused due to increased milk supply and blood flow in the breasts and usually happens after the first childbirth.

When you start breastfeeding for the first time, your breasts start producing small amounts of colostrum which eventually increases in a few days. After 2-4 days, large quantities of milk start producing, which is known as “coming in.”

A common sign that your breasts are producing milk in the proper amount is when your breasts start becoming firmer and fuller. The swelling is caused by increasing milk flow and increasing blood flow and lymph fluids in the breast tissue.

For most mums, when the baby is feeding properly, these feelings pass without any major issues. However, some mothers produce more milk which can cause breast engorgement and make them rock hard. While breast engorgement lasts only for 24-48 hours, it can be extremely painful.

Read more- Naturally Increasing Your Breast Milk Supply

Breast Engorgement Symptoms

Engorgement can happen in both or one breast at a time. It begins as swelling or throbbing, which sometimes extends to your armpit. Your breasts may also feel hot and lumpy because of everything going inside the body.

You may also notice some other symptoms of breast engorgement, as shiny breasts or feeling stretched. Nipples may start becoming flat and hard. At the time, you can also experience a rise in temperature to around 37.5 to 38.3 C

Along with being painful, engorgement can also cause difficulties which can worsen the problem further. Your baby may struggle to latch on the nipples when your breast is hardened and your nipples are flat.

When the baby’s latch is poor, it can cause problems in draining the breasts properly. If breast engorgement is left untreated, it can reduce milk production, mastitis, and blocked ducts.

What causes breast engorgement?

Engorged breasts are usually a result of not feeding a baby regularly. It can happen to any new mother but is more common with first-time moms or who have done any breast surgery before, like breast augmentation.

Extreme pressure due to wearing an ill-fitted or tight bra can worsen breast engorgement and lead to blocked ducts and mastitis. It can happen to women who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed the baby.

The hormonal changes after the placenta delivery can boost milk production. Engagement can also happen if you suddenly cut breastfeeding when your baby is sick, starting solids, sleeping longer, or is childcare.

How can I treat engorged breasts?

A hungry baby is the best breast engorgement relief. Try to empty the breast milk as much as possible to keep regular milk flow and feed between 8-12 in 24 hours. 

Maintain skin-to-skin contact with your baby, probable chest for as long as possible. This way, she will be able to smell the aroma and get tempted to drink more milk. This will ensure that the baby feeds frequently.

Also, get checked for your baby’s latch by a lactation consultant to make sure she is draining the milk properly and feeding effectively. 

Follow the below-mentioned tips to relieve breast engorgement symptoms:

  • Ensure breastfeeding for a minimum of 8-10 times in 24 hours.
  • Check your baby’s latch when breastfeeding.
  • Try different positions to breastfeed the baby.
  • Massage the breasts gently when feeding for effective milk drain.
  • Express a little milk using a breast pump or hand to soften the nipples.
  • If you still feel your breasts are firm after feeding, express until you feel comfortable. 
  • Tuck clean cabbage leaves inside the bra. This helps in reducing discomfort and swelling.
  • Take anti-inflammatory drugs like paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Wear a well-fitted nursing bra and avoid using underwires.
  • Do not stop breastfeeding suddenly; it can worsen breast engorgement. 
  • See a doctor if you develop fever or cannot breastfeed your baby because of pain.
  • Be patient. Your body takes time to get used to making and feeding milk. The symptoms of breast engorgement will finally subside, and you will feel the relief.

Read more- Tips For New Parents You Must Know

How can I prevent it?

It is not possible to prevent breast engorgement in the first few days after giving birth. You may overproduce until your body learns to regulate milk production.

However, you can prevent it later by following these tips:

  • Pump or feed the baby regularly. As the body makes milk regularly, you need to keep emptying regardless of your nursing schedule to avoid breast engorgement. Feed the baby at least 1-3 hours, and if your baby is not hungry, pump the milk.
  • Use ice packs to reduce milk supply. It will also help in calming and cooling the inflamed breasts.
  • Wean slowly. If you stop nursing too quickly, your wean plan may backfire. You can end up making too much milk this way. Wean your child slowly, so the body adjusts to decreased milk supply. 
  • If you stop breastfeeding in a few days, your body will understand that it does not require producing more milk.

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The bottom line

Breast engorgement is inflammation and swelling of the breasts due to increased milk supply and blood flow. In the initial few days after giving birth, the body starts producing more milk.

Until your body takes a note of how much milk it needs to produce, it can initially begin producing too much. Symptoms of breast engorgement usually include tight and hard breasts that are tender and swollen. Regular pumping or nursing can help in preventing breast engorgement. 

If the discomfort and pain do not go away even after 42 hours, reach out to the doctor. They will ask you to monitor the signs which indicate serious health problems like breast infection or extreme fever.