Breast engorgement refers to the swelling of the breast due to the increase in blood flow and milk supply after giving birth. It comes with a feeling of tenderness and soreness in the breasts. It can happen in the first few days after delivery, whether you decide to breastfeed your baby or not.
Symptoms of breast engorgement
A woman may feel that her breasts are hard, lumpy, heavy or full, swollen, and tender or warm to touch. Breast engorgement symptoms can be felt in just one breast, or they may occur in both. Additionally, it can also be felt from the breasts into the armpit.
These symptoms may vary from woman to woman. You may experience all of these symptoms or just a few.
Other symptoms that may occur are:
- Noticeable veins under the breast’s skin
- Low-grade fever (also known as milk fever)
A nursing mom with milk fever can continue to breastfeed her baby. However, it is better to consult your doctor if you experience fever a few days after giving birth.
That is because there are cases where the cause of fever and breast inflammation is an infection and not just engorgement. It is important to treat infections properly, so it is better to report your symptoms to your healthcare provider.
Causes of breast engorgement
Photo by Tamilles Esposito
Blood flow in the breasts increases after the delivery of the baby. That helps your breast to produce enough milk for your baby. However, an increase in blood flow can cause pain and inflammation in the breasts.
You can have breast engorgement in the first to second week after you give birth. And it can reoccur anytime if you continue to breastfeed your baby.
On the other hand, if you decide not to breastfeed, you may still experience breast engorgement in the first few days after delivery. And when you are not expressing breastmilk when it first comes, you may experience the swollen fullness of your breasts.
However, the milk production will eventually stop, and the breast engorgement will go away on its own if you do not breastfeed your baby.
In addition, you can also experience the swollen fullness of your breast due to the following causes:
- Breastfeeding a baby with an illness
- If your baby has difficulty with latching and sucking
- Skipping a pumping session
- If you missed feeding your baby
- When you give your baby formula milk in between nursing sessions
How you will know that your baby needs feeding
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You can determine if your baby needs feeding even before they cry. It is important to know the signs that your baby is ready to feed before they cry to avoid stressful breastfeeding.
It is helpful to keep your baby close enough so you can observe and learn their feeding cues. Some of those early feeding cues are:
- eyes moving rapidly
- sucking their fingers
- turning to one side with their mouth open
- opening their mouth and seemingly looking for the breast
- becoming restless
How to relieve breast engorgement
Treating breast engorgement varies depending on whether you are breastfeeding or not. For nursing moms, feeding your baby more regularly can ease the pain caused by breast engorgement. Ideally, the baby should be fed every one to three hours.
Moreover, massaging your breasts while nursing and feeding the baby as long as they are hungry can help relieve breast engorgement.
Other tips that you can try to ease the discomfort of breast engorgement includes:
- alternate feeding positions
- use a breast pump when you cannot nurse
- take pain medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen at your doctor’s recommended dose
- wear a nursing bra for comfortable breastfeeding
On the other hand, if you are not breastfeeding your baby, the pain caused by engorgement is expected to fade in about one day. You can still feel the fullness in your breasts after that day, but the pain should go away.
If you cannot wait until the discomfort subsides, you can take a pain reliever approved by your healthcare provider. You can also wear a supportive bra to prevent your breasts from moving.
There are things at home that can help you ease the pain and discomfort brought by breast engorgement.
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
- You can put a warm cloth on your breasts before you hand express your milk.
- Apply chilled cabbage leaves to your breasts after you feed your baby. That may help reduce swelling in your breasts.
- Use a warm compress and take a warm shower to let down the milk.
- Use a cold compress to reduce inflammation.
When you are not feeding your baby, or it is not yet the time to feed the baby, but you feel pain and discomfort in your breasts, you can express a little breastmilk with your hand.
You can also ask your midwife or your doctor for any advice on how to ease the pain and inflammation caused by breast engorgement.
How to prevent breast engorgement
Breast engorgement in the first days after delivery is inevitable. You cannot prevent the swelling until your body adjusts and learns to regulate milk production. But you can avoid later episodes of breasts engorgement by doing the following:
- Use a cold compress to decrease milk supply and calm your breast tissues.
- Hand expresses small amounts of breastmilk to relieve the pressure.
- Use a hand pump to express milk but be careful in expressing too much. It may send a signal to your body to produce more milk.
- Feed your baby every one to three hours to keep up with your body’s regular milk production.
- Do not stop nursing too quickly. Slowly wean your baby until your body adjust.
If you decide that you are not going to breastfeed your baby, you can wait until your breastmilk production stops. In a matter of days, your body will adjust and learn not to produce milk. The breast engorgement will stop as soon as the supply dries up.
Since you are not breastfeeding, do not try to pump milk from your breasts or express milk by your hand. It may prolong the pain and discomfort because your body will produce more milk.
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