Taking care of breasts postpartum 

With a little luck, for most of your life, your breasts are pretty neutral health-wise. They’re not contributing much, and they’re probably not causing too many problems, either. During pregnancy and with a new baby, however, they often end up doing a little of both.

After delivery, most women have the ability to breastfeed. While the majority of women enjoy this wonderful experience, it can come with new breast considerations that women have not had to deal with before including breast soreness, tenderness, swelling, and nipple pain. Finding ways to relieve pain in your breasts will make you more way comfortable, and will give you more energy to focus on other things, like counting how many times you can kiss Baby in 60 seconds.

If you’re breastfeeding

During pregnancy, your breast tissue changes as your milk supply develops in preparation for your new baby. After you give birth, your body will go into milk-making mode. Colostrum is the first substance made by your breasts in late pregnancy and will nourish your baby for the first few days of life. Colostrum will then start to give way to mature milk, which will increase the volume of liquid your breasts are carrying.

For the first week or so, this can be painful, but many women find that this tenderness goes away in the second week. Some women continue to experience pain and swelling, which are signs that your breasts have become engorged. This can happen due to excessive swelling or your body just producing too much milk.

Besides being painful, engorgement can make it difficult for Baby to latch on during feedings. Some solutions to engorgement while breastfeeding include: 

  • Nursing
  • Pumping (one breast at a time)
  • Massaging while nursing or pumping
  • Warm washcloths or a warm shower or bath before nursing
  • Cold washcloths or ice packs after nursing or if you’re not breastfeeding
  • Pain relievers
You might also consider using breast pads between feedings, to soak up extra milk and prevent chafing. If your nipples become dry or cracked during feeding, there are many nipple creams that help protect your nipples while they heal and are safe for the baby. There are many tips and tricks that can be used during breastfeeding. It is important to remember that every baby is different, and even if this isn’t your first time breastfeeding, what worked for one baby might not work for another.

If you’re not breastfeeding

Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, your body is going to create milk for the first week or so after you give birth. If you don’t plan on breastfeeding at all, make sure you don’t pump, massage your breasts, or otherwise express milk. Those actions give your body a signal to keep producing milk, meaning it will take longer for your supply to dry up. If your breasts are making you uncomfortable, you can try wearing a supportive bra, using ice packs, or taking pain relievers.

If problems persist, your OB/GYN or pediatric provider can refer you to a lactation consultant who specializes in helping both new and experienced moms with breastfeeding. Don’t be afraid to ask your providers for help! A consultation might be especially helpful for a breastfeeding mom, but it can also provide you with helpful information regarding pain relief even if you’re not breastfeeding.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Labor and delivery, postpartum care.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. March 24, 2015. Web.
  • “Breast engorgement in the first week postpartum.” Sutter Health. Palo Alto Medical Foundation. 2015. Web.
  • Walker, Marsha. “Breastfeeding and engorgement.” Breastfeeding Abstracts. La Leche League International. November 2000. Web.
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