Breast engorgement is the development of hard, swollen, painful breasts from too much breast milk. Engorged breasts can become extremely large, tight, lumpy, and tender and swelling may go all the way up into your armpit, and the veins on the surface may become more visible or even stick out.
Breast Engorgement: Help for Breastfeeding Moms
Degree of breast engorgement within the first week or two after the birth of your baby because an increase in the blood flow surge in your milk supply may cause your breasts get too heavy and full. If breastfeeding stage of breast engorgement starts to get better within a few days as your milk production adjusts to meet your baby needs.
Since your body doesn’t know that you won’t be breastfeeding, it will make breast milk. Begin to feel the fullness when your milk comes in between the 3rd and 5th day postpartum the uncomfortable painful part of engorgement should only last a day or a few days, but you’ll continue to make breast milk for a few weeks.
Breast engorgement is a common breastfeeding problem, and it isn’t limited to the first few weeks. You may also experience engorgement at other times and for other reasons if you skip a feeding or miss a pumping session, you may begin to feel that heavy, fullness of engorgement. 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 blebs, plugged milk ducts, or mastitis. Difficulty breastfeeding and problems with your milk supply could also result.
Engorgement is most often caused by one of the following situations:
- You’re not breastfeeding often enough.
- You’ve waited too long since the last time you nursed or pumped.
- You’ve decided to supplement your child with formula between feedings.
- Your baby’s schedule has changed, and he’s now sleeping through the night.
- You breastfeeding a sick baby who’s having trouble nursing because of a stuffy nose, painful ear infection, or other illness.
- Your baby is refusing the breast.
- You’re weaning your baby too quickly.
Whatever the cause, the fullness and pressure of breast engorgement can be painful. Here’s what you can do to treat it. Breastfeed your baby frequently. Offer your child the breast very often, at least every 1 to 3 hours throughout the day and night. If you have a sleepy baby, wake her up for feedings. Massage your breast as your baby nurses to help remove more milk and alternate breastfeeding positions to drain all the areas of your breasts.
Talk to your doctor about taking an over the counter pain medication such as Tylenol or Motrin to help ease the pain and inflammation. Breastfeed from only one side for an entire feeding to help empty that breast fully. Then, start the next feeding on the opposite side. Don’t give your baby formula or water in between breastfeeding sessions. He’ll take less breast milk when it’s time to nurse, and you’re more likely to become engorged.
Take a warm shower or apply a warm compress to your breasts just before breastfeeding. The warmth can help with your let-down reflex and get your milk flowing. But, you shouldn’t put heat on your breasts between feedings since it can make the swelling worse. Get plenty of rest. Watch for signs of blebs, plugged milk ducts, or a breast infection. If you’re weaning, try weaning more slowly.
A poor latch
If your breasts are overfull and hard, your nipples can become flat and a hard breast make it tough for your baby to latch on.
A low breast milk supply
If the swelling is not relieved, and your baby can’t latch on, your breast milk will not be removed so you can also end up with a low milk supply from the overuse of cold compresses and cabbage leaves.
Poor weight gain for your baby
If your child is having trouble latching on to your breast, he may not be able to get enough breast milk to gain weight in a healthy fashion.
Flow of breast milk
The pressure from the backup of milk in your breasts can lead to an overactive let-down reflex and a very fast flow of breast milk out of your breasts hyperactive let-down or a fast flow of milk can cause your baby to gag, choke, and swallow excessive amounts of air as he’s trying to gulp down the breast milk.
Your baby may become frustrated from a difficult latch, not getting enough breast milk or a very fast flow.
Breast engorgement can lead to other breast issues including sore nipples, blebs, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis.
Many women leave the hospital within a few days of childbirth, so breast engorgement often begins at home since it can be painful and cause difficulty with latching on and breastfeeding, it’s a common cause of early weaning.