What is breast engorgement?
Breast engorgement occurs when breast tissue overfills with breastmilk, fluid, or blood. The engorged breast(s) become much harder than usual, making them feel very uncomfortable. Breast engorgement can occur in one or both of the breasts.
What is normal when it comes to breast engorgement?
It is normal to experience engorgement in the first week of breastfeeding, especially when a mom’s breastmilk “comes in.” When breastmilk production establishes typically two to five days after birth, breast engorgement can occur; this would be within the realm of normal. The nipple and areola should stay elastic, while the rest of the breast may feel uncomfortable as it is engorged. It is not normal if the engorgement impedes the baby’s ability to latch.
There are several ways to prevent engorgement:
- Breastfeed early and often. Breastfeed your baby as soon as possible after birth. You want to aim to breastfeed 8-12 times in the first 24 hours. After that, take every opportunity to breastfeed as to empty the breasts and prevent overfilling.
- Breastfeed on-demand by watching your baby’s hunger cues. If your baby shows cues, breastfeed your baby. Your baby’s natural feeding schedule will often relieve the engorgement.
- Allow your baby to finish the first breast before offering the second side. By completely emptying one breast, you are less likely to become engorged rather than leaving both partially full.
- Make sure your baby has a good latch and is positioned well during breastfeeding so your baby, once again, has a better chance at emptying the breast.
- Frequently express breastmilk if your baby is not nursing well. This can be done using a pump or by hand expression.
Here are some tips for treating engorgement:
- Use a warm compress for a couple of minutes before breastfeeding/pumping helps relax the tissue, remove some of the engorgement discomforts, and prepare the breast for feeding.
- Gently massage the breast before breastfeeding so the breast can release the breastmilk out of the swollen area as your body prepares to feed your baby.
- Implement Reverse Pressure Softening (RPS) is the process of protruding the nipple for easier latching. There are several methods of using RPS. In summary, it’s where you push the edema (swollen tissue) back in a way that allows the nipple to protrude and the baby to latch on easier. If you find it to be uncomfortable, Advil can help.
- Breastfeed your baby frequently. This may seem obvious, but often breastfeeding (even when you’re uncomfortable, and it’s the last thing you want to do) will reduce the likelihood of engorgement.
- Hand express after feeding. This can be done at any stage to offer relief. Hand expression helps empty the breast tissue.
- Use a cold compress after breastfeeding to bring down the swelling just as you would any other swollen area of your body.
- Place a cold green cabbage compress directly onto your breasts after feeding the baby.
Contact your lactation consultant if you experience any of the following:
- Your engorgement is not relieved by the above measures.
- Your baby is unable to latch.
- Your baby is not having the appropriate number of wet/dirty diapers.
- You have symptoms of mastitis.
- You have questions or concerns about breastfeeding.