Ahh, those precious first few days with your gorgeous bubba. Everything is new, a little bit scary, sometimes weird but also magic.
A few days in you’re also going to have some pretty magic boobs… although at the time you may not feel so great about it. Today we’re talking about how to manage breast engorgement.
If you haven’t had bub yet, trust us, it’s a thing, and you’re going to want to save this article somewhere.
What is breast engorgement?
When your baby is first born, assuming everything is going to plan and you want to try and breastfeed, you’ll be doing a whole lot of breastfeeding. It seems like they’re eating a lot, but at this stage, it’s really only colostrum or your first milk.
After a couple of days, your body gets the message, your milk will start to “come in”. You can usually expect this to happen somewhere around 2-6 days post-birth. And suddenly you’ll feel like you’re channelling your inner Pammie Anderson. Your breast will feel big, heavy and stretched. They’ll also probably feel a little warm and they’ll definitely be uncomfortable. Hello breast engorgement!
Each mother will experience it differently, but we won’t lie, engorgement can be really quite painful. Luckily, breast engorgement is temporary and should only last around 24-48 hours and there are a few things you can do to help. Let’s go through them.
1. Feed regularly
This is a great tip for relief as well as prevention. Feed your baby often and don’t limit their time at the breast. On-demand feeding is not only great for bub, it will relieve the fullness of your breasts.
2. Check that latch
Get a midwife or lactation consultant to check your baby’s latch. An incorrect latch could mean your breasts aren’t draining properly and may lead to blocked ducts and Mastitis. When baby is positioned and attached correctly, it maximises the amount of milk they are getting.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) also recommends something called ‘Reverse pressure softening’ for engorgement. The idea is to soften the breast tissue under your areola. You can check out their video here.
“It will never be harder than what it is now…it gets steadily easier towards 6 weeks. When your milk comes in is just a particularly challenging period. Even on my second baby, I ended up at a walk-in breastfeeding clinic because I needed help with engorgement, my baby couldn’t latch.” – Samantha, Autumn 2021 Baby Group member
3. Ditch tight bras and clothing
It’s best to ditch tight, ill-fitting nursing bras for comfort reasons of course, but also because it can restrict milk from flowing and make engorgement worse.
“Don’t wear anything too tight as this can block milk – keep those boobies as free as can be.” – Christy, Summer 2021/22 Baby Group member
In fact, the Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends taking your bra off completely before breastfeeding. While this isn’t always practical when going out, it should be possible when you’re at home. Here’s a good tip from a fellow mum for what to do with the other breast while feeding:
“I got a Hakaa milk catcher to pop on the opposite boob while feeding. It’s great for any leakages and taking the edge off if there’s too much milk.” – Rosie, Summer 2021/22 Baby Group member
4. Gentle breast massage
Gentle breast massage can work wonders, especially in the early days. Massaging from the chest wall toward the nipple area before nursing to help trigger your let-down reflex. Also, massaging gently whilst you’re feeding helps the breast drain effectively.
“Massage any lumps towards the nipple during feeds or in the shower. Don’t express large amounts but when you are in pain or too full squeeze the top layer off for some relief.” – Steph, Autumn 2021 Baby Group member
5. A touch of warmth
Some women find the application of warmth right before they feed helps with let-down – but not for too long! Any longer than a few minutes and you run the risk of causing more swelling and inflammation. You want just enough warmth for the milk to start flowing freely and baby can drain the engorged breasts completely.
Some popular ways to bring on the warm fuzzies are to use a warm washcloth applied to the breast or standing in a warm shower (with the shower hitting your back NOT your boobs directly – ouch!).
6. Switch sides
While many women find there’s one breast that just seems to “work” better than the other, it’s important not to show favourites. This early in the piece you’ll want to make sure you alternate and drain each breast at every feeding.
7. Try a new feeding position
If you’re able to move about, try some different feeding positions. Some aren’t as comfortable as others, but they may still be useful in helping your breasts drain.
8. Apply some cool relief
Breasts feeling inflamed after a feed? Reaching for cold packs can bring relief. You might even want to try chilled, washed cabbage leaves or frozen pads to help with inflammation. This may sound gimmicky, but it really does work! Keep a washed stash in your fridge so you can simply grab a leaf and pop it in your bra.
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9. See your doctor if you need to
When breast engorgement is acute, it can feel impossibly painful to even feed your baby. If your breasts are causing you extreme discomfort, don’t be afraid to consult your doctor. They will be able to recommend some appropriate pain medication
10. Seek advice about pumping
It’s not always recommended as the first port of call, but if you’re severely engorged, some pumping can help ease the pressure. It doesn’t hurt to check with your midwife or doctor before you proceed because the idea is to provide relief for engorgement, not encouraging more of an oversupply.
“As annoying as it is, hand expressing or pumping only a small amount off at a time before bubs feeds. If you do too much your body will make more and the engorged feeling will last longer.” – Mary, Summer 2019/20 Baby Group member
When breast engorgement is acute, it can feel impossibly painful to even feed your baby. If your breasts are causing you extreme discomfort, don’t be afraid to consult your doctor. If at any stage you begin to feel unwell or feverish, talk to your doctor right away, there’s a chance you may be developing mastitis.
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