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While you were carrying life inside your womb, patiently awaiting the arrival the of your little bundle of joy, you may have underestimated and were probably were underprepared for a lot of things: long episodes of crying, lost sleep, postnatal pain and a lot more. However, one look at your sweet little baby suddenly makes all these challenges seem much easier.
One more thing that you perhaps weren’t prepared for post-childbirth are huge, heavy, hard breasts that are tender to the touch and feel like they’re about to explode. If this is the case with you, you’re likely experiencing breast engorgement.
What is breast engorgement ?
Breast engorgement means the breasts are overfilled with milk and are painful. It usually occurs when a mother’s breast produces more milk than her baby feeds. The breasts may become hard and swollen. Engorgement may occur:
- When your milk first comes in, during the period after you give birth
- When you are not able to nurse or pump as per your usual routine
- If you suddenly stop breastfeeding
- If the baby suddenly stops breastfeeding or reduces feeding
Breast engorgement is a common breastfeeding problem. You may also experience engorgement if you skip a feeding or miss a pumping session. When it does happen, address it as soon as possible to prevent complications. If left untreated, engorgement can lead to potentially serious issues including painful breasts, plugged milk ducts, difficulty in breastfeeding and problems with your milk supply.
How can I tell if my breasts are engorged?
It is normal for a woman’s breasts to become larger, heavier and a little sore somewhere between the second and fifth day after giving birth. This is because the breasts begin producing greater quantities of milk. Some of the fullness is also due to extra blood and lymph fluids in the breast tissue. This fullness will ease within the first two to three weeks after delivery. After this period, your breasts would feel softer, even when your milk supply is plentiful.
If your breasts feel hard, swollen, throbbing, lumpy, uncomfortably full, or painful, you are likely experiencing breast engorgement. The swelling may extend all the way to your armpit and you may even run a low fever.
Engorgement can make it difficult for your baby to latch on properly and breastfeed effectively. The areola may get hard and lead to painful nipples as well a low supply of milk in due course of time.
Causes of breast engorgement
Whenever breast milk builds up in your breasts and is not removed regularly or fully, swelling and firmness can develop. Breast engorgement may be caused if :
- You are not breastfeeding often.
- You wait too long in between nursing or pumping
- You supplement your child with formula between feeds
- Your baby's schedule has changed and he's now sleeping through the night.
- You have an overabundant supply of breast milk.
- Your baby is sick and is having trouble breastfeeding and thus is not feeding properly and regularly
- Your baby is refusing the breast.
- Sometimes breast implants may block the flow of breast milk from your breasts.
- You are weaning your baby too quickly.
Treatment of breast engorgement
Regardless of the cause of breast engorgement, it can be painful and lead to other complications as discussed above. Here is how it can be treated.
- Breastfeed your baby frequently. Feed your newborn your breast milk at least every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day and night.
- Let your child breastfeed for as long as she/he wants, but for a minimum of 20 minutes at each feeding.
- If the baby is sleepy, wake him up for feedings.
- Use a breast pump or express your milk by hand to remove a little bit of breast milk before each feeding. This will help in relieving some of the tightness, soften your breasts, and make it easier for your baby to latch on.
- Massage your breasts as your baby nurses to help the let down of milk.
- After each feeding, place a cold compress on your breasts. This can provide some relief from the pain and swelling.
- Change breastfeeding positions to drain all the areas of your breasts.
- You can try the method of breastfeeding from one side till the breast feels completely empty and then moving to the other breast
- If home remedies are not working, talk to your doctor about taking an over the counter pain medication to help ease the pain and inflammation.
- Try to avoid giving formula to baby between breastfeeding sessions. If the baby is full he or she will take less breast milk when it's time to nurse, and you're more likely to become engorged.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Watch for signs of plugged milk ducts, or a breast infection.
- If you're weaning, try weaning more slowly.
- Wear a supportive bra.