How to Handle Engorged Breasts
Breastfeeding success most often depends on moms having the right information at their fingertips in those first crucial days, in addition to getting support. So, if you’re pregnant, set this article aside now but remind yourself (a calendar alert is a good idea!) to look at it 1-5 days after birth. That’s when engorgement peaks, and you’ll want these tips (and video) handy.
What to Expect as You Start Breastfeeding
From the get-go, your baby will suck colostrum from your breast, sometimes called "liquid gold" because it's rich with immune-boosting antibodies and protein. Then your milk “starts to come in” 3-5 days after birth and your breast will feel full, warm and heavy for 1-2 days (all totally normal). Both blood and milk are rushing to your breasts! Feeding your baby frequently is important during these days.
You’ll know you are engorged when your breasts are swollen, very firm, hot and painful. The skin may feel tight or look shiny. Swelling may go all the way to your armpit. Ouch!
How to Treat Engorgement at Home
- Feed your little one often. It’s hands down the best thing to do!
- Sometimes your breast is so hard your baby’s mouth just pops off! You’ll want to hand express some milk and massage toward the armpit before your baby latches. You can also do reverse pressure to soften around the nipple.
- To relieve pressure/pain, hand express for a few minutes until you feel better (but don’t drain the breast).
- Between feedings you can use cold compresses, bags of frozen veggies, ice packs etc. Some women swear by gel “soothies” that are cooled in the fridge.
- Apply moist heat BEFORE you breastfeed (warm shower, warm towel). This will helps your milk let down. A cool trick is to put a few tablespoons of water in a diaper and heat it in the microwave for 10 seconds to make a compress that holds its heat well. Just make sure it’s not so hot to burn or irritate your skin!
- Ask your doctor if ibuprofen can be used for swelling or pain.
Watch & Learn the Techniques
When to Get More Breastfeeding Help
- Call your doctor right away if your breast is red and painful, you have flu-like symptoms or you have a temp of +101 degrees.
- Seek advice from a lactation consultant if your engorgement and related pain don't improve within 2 days.
Engorgement is a top reason women abandon breastfeeding. Share this advice with a pregnant friend (or mom who just gave birth...but, act fast!) and you'll have done a very good deed!
Article by Inger Lund Carter; Advice is adapted from materials by Breastfeeding Medicine of Northeast Ohio.