Breast engorgement refers to the swelling of breasts due to extra build up of breast milk in them. Breast engorgement can make breasts hard, swollen, lumpy and painful. Engorged breasts can become extremely large, tight, and tender. The swelling may spread all the way to the armpits and the veins present on the surface of the breasts can become more visible or get pressed against the skin, causing them to stick out.
Some amount of breast engorgement is normal right after you’ve given birth. This is the result of an increased blood flow to your breasts and the surge in milk flow to your breasts that you experience immediately after giving birth. The increased blood supply and the surge of milk can cause your breasts to become too full, resulting in engorgement. Once you start breastfeeding, the engorgement gradually starts to go away as your baby empties the breasts.
With time, the body adjusts its milk production in accordance with the needs of your baby. Between the second and fifth day after giving birth, it’s normal for your breasts to become larger, heavier and a little sore as they begin producing greater quantities of milk. Some of the fullness is due to extra blood and lymph fluids in the breast tissue. This fullness usually eases within the first two to three weeks after delivery and your breasts should feel softer, even when your milk supply is plentiful.
If you decide to not breastfeed, engorgement is still going to happen to you, since your body doesn’t know that you won’t be breastfeeding. Producing breast milk is a natural part of giving birth, so your body is going to keep on making milk. Your breasts will start feeling full about 4 to 5 days postpartum. If you do not remove the breastmilk, your body will stop producing it. However, it will still continue to make milk for a few weeks after.
Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention for Breast Engorgement
What are the causes of breast engorgement?
Breast engorgement is usually caused when breastmilk first comes in, right after giving birth. More blood is supplied to the breasts, your body is producing milk for the first time and is likely to produce more milk than you need, before adjusting to your baby’s needs. In some women, this engorgement is not that painful, while for some others it can cause significant pain and discomfort.
Another cause of breast engorgement is if your milk ducts get obstructed. This can happen if you’ve had breast augmentation and the implants take up so much room that there’s not enough space left inside the breast for the increased blood, lymph, and milk. Ducts can also become obstructed if you regularly wear a bra that’s too tight.
Breast engorgement could also develop during breastfeeding if your body is producing too much milk in comparison to how much your baby is able to consume. It could also be a result of not breastfeeding often enough, or if it has been four or more hours since you last nursed your baby or pumped milk out of your breasts.
What are the symptoms of breast engorgement?
Breast engorgement, as the name suggest, is something you’ll know when you feel it. However, there are some telltale symptoms of it that you should look out for:
Swollen breasts that feel tender to touch:
It is normal for breasts to grow a few cup sizes after delivery, but if your breasts do not go back to the new size once you have breastfed or pumped your breasts, it is likely that you are engorged.
Hardness in the breasts:
If your breasts feel so full that you feel like they might start to secrete milk even without touching, and feel hard, therefore, it is likely that breast engorgement is in play.
An area on your breast which feels hot to touch and looks red:
Prolonged breast engorgement can lead to red-hot areas or patches of skin on your breasts that are painful. They can look like bruises. This means that there might be an infection, and you need to see an expert, pronto.
A buildup of milk in the breast can cause the nipples to flatten out and the areola to become hard, making it difficult for baby to latch properly.
Good news for you is that breast engorgement is a temporary condition and you will feel relief once your breasts are emptied of the milk.
How to treat engorged breasts:
Basically, treatment of breast engorgement involves emptying the breasts of their milk. However, do not go for a breast pump: this will help temporarily, as it will empty your breasts, but at the same time will encourage your body to produce more milk, thus aggravating the problem. The best thing to do is to feed your baby more frequently. Offer your baby your breast at intervals of 1-3 hours throughout the day and night as well. Maintain a minimum feeding time of 20-25 minutes. Let your baby feed for as long as she/he needs to, preferably till your breasts are empty of all their milk, as this makes space for the next batch of milk that your body is going to produce. Do not hesitate to wake your baby up for feedings.
Not all women experience engorgement, so you should not worry about it too much. If you are still worried, here are some preventive measures you can take to prevent engorgement:
- Breastfeed as early as within two hours after delivery
- Nurse frequently- up to twelve times a day.
- Let your baby finish feeding off one breast completely before offering the other breast. This encourages full emptying of the breasts and will make you comfortable. If your baby feels full after the first breast, just start with the other one the next time you nurse.
- Avoid giving your child a bottle or pacifier during the first month. The muscles used to suck on a bottle or pacifier is different than those used to breastfeed and your baby may have a hard time nursing after he/she has learned how to get milk from a bottle.
- Do not hesitate to hand express your milk if your baby seems to be unable to nurse.
Breast engorgement is not a serious condition and will not cause any harm to you or your baby. You should be able to relieve yourself of it by using different treatments and preventive measures. However, if your breasts still feel painful and sore after trying these options, it is a good idea to go to a lactation consultant.
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