One of the most common breastfeeding issues that mothers encounter is breast engorgement. While breastfeeding engorgement is quite normal to experience at one time or another, it can be uncomfortable and may lead to other issues if not tended to. It’s important for mothers to understand what breast engorgement is and how to relieve engorgement. Here we’ll cover all the essentials, including prevention, symptoms, and engorgement relief.
What is engorgement?
So, what is breast engorgement? Engorgement is when a mother experiences breast swelling that leads to painful, tender breasts.
This condition is often caused by an increase in blood flow and milk supply to the breasts, which is why it is very common during the first few days after giving birth. It can also occur within one to two weeks after giving birth or at any point while breastfeeding. While this is a fairly normal part of nursing, it can be uncomfortable and, occasionally, lead to other complications. Which is why breast engorgement management is key.
How long does engorgement last? Every woman is different and the amount of time the condition lasts can vary. Some experience mild symptoms for only one day, while others may have it for up to two weeks.
There are different reasons as to why women experience engorgement. The common causes are: 1,2
Missing a feeding or pumping session
Creating more milk than the baby eats
Inadequate draining of milk (improper latching)
Breast engorgement symptoms
Breast engorgement symptoms vary from person to person. But the most common symptoms are: 3
Hard or tight breasts
Breasts that are tender or warm to touch
Heavy, full breasts
Lumpy, swollen breasts
While engorgement and mastitis may appear similar, they are actually completely different conditions. How do mothers know if they have engorgement or mastitis?
Mastitis is a breast infection that usually results in flu-like symptoms, whereas engorgement is the result of milk building up and breasts not fully emptying. Engorgement can lead to other issues such as plugged milk ducts or a breast infection, which is why it’s important know how to relieve engorgement as soon as it starts to appear.
There are a few ways that can help prevent the condition from developing in the first place. It can be more difficult in the first few days of motherhood to prevent engorged breasts, as the body adapts to the new changes. But these methods can help with engorgement relief: 1
1. Get a breast check
Mothers should schedule an appointment before their baby arrives to get their breasts checked. A healthcare professional can then provide recommendations if any adjustments are needed to make feeding more comfortable, as well as explaining how to look out for engorgement or mastitis, and how to relieve engorged breasts.
2. Feed or pump regularly
Breastfeeding mothers produce milk regularly, which is why it’s important to keep up with the production by feeding or pumping often. Mothers should aim to breastfeed at least eight times every 24 hours, fully emptying their breasts each time.
And for those moments when mothers can’t be with their baby during feedings, they should express or pump their milk. This double electric breast pump can help mothers comfortably pump more milk in less time, whether it be between feeding sessions or while away from their baby.
3. Ensure a proper latch
Mothers may find it helpful to consult with a lactation specialist to help their baby latch. Establishing a good breastfeeding latch is important to ensure that the milk is fully drained. This will also help to prevent other issues from occurring, such as sore or irritated nipples.
4. Wean slowly
When the time comes for a baby to stop breastfeeding, mothers shouldn’t stop all at once. It’s best to wean a baby slowly by decreasing the feedings little by little. This will allow the breasts to gradually slow down milk production, which will help prevent engorged breasts. Find more information about how to wean a baby off breastfeeding here.
Breast engorgement management
Breastfeeding with engorgement is not only safe, but necessary to prevent symptoms from worsening and to provide some relief. While the body is learning to regulate milk supply, mothers may use these breast pads to help absorb any excess milk and avoid milk stained-clothes all day and night.
Now onto the tips and tricks for engorgement relief. Here are some ways breastfeeding women can relieve engorgement: 1,4
1. Apply a warm and cold compress
A warm compress can help encourage milk let down and a cold compress can help relieve pain and swelling. 5A 2-in-1 thermo pad can cool and warm the breasts, helping to both stimulate and soothe. Mothers need only to place them inside the bra for up to 30 minutes after feeds.
2. Massage the breasts
Mothers should aim to encourage optimal milk flow during feedings. They can try gently massaging their breasts while nursing their baby to help stimulate milk flow.
3. Express or pump milk
There may be times when breastfeeding mothers are unable to be with their little one during feedings. It is important to still empty the breast milk by either expressing or pumping to help prevent engorgement and other issues.
4. Alternate feeding positions and breasts
It can also be helpful to change breastfeeding positions. This will help to ensure that the milk is completely drained from all areas of the breasts. Mothers can also alternate breasts during feeds to encourage the baby to empty both breasts. This guide covers the different breastfeeding positions that can help both mothers and babies get the most out of feeding sessions.
Remember that while some pain and discomfort is perfectly normal during breastfeeding, mothers should consult with their healthcare professional if symptoms do not go away or if they worsen.