If you’ve just given birth, the pain and swelling of breast engorgement is probably the last thing you want to deal with, even knowing that it is common.
What you should know about breast engorgement
Engorgement can happen shortly after birth, and is referred to as your “milk coming in,” a process during which a woman’s breasts become bigger, more tender, and harder several days after delivery. Engorgement can also happen any time after, if Baby hasn’t fed for a while. A little swelling is normal, but if your breasts become too filled with milk – usually caused by an imbalance between how much you are supplying and how much your infant can handle – nursing can become a painful and unappealing process.
How to deal with it
If you’re breastfeeding, you can avoid breast engorgement by feeding Baby often, and making sure your breasts are emptied after every feeding. If you’re not breastfeeding, on the other hand, feeding, pumping, or hand-expressing milk is not recommended, since this can encourage the body to produce more. If engorgement lasts longer than a day or two if you’re breastfeeding, or 3 to 5 days if you’re not, check in with your healthcare provider about treatment. In addition, consider these four tips to alleviate some of the pain.
- Luxuriate in a hot (but short) shower
Showering not only feels amazing after spending hours sweating in a hospital bed, but it can also help get the juices flowing before nursing. Just prior to breastfeeding, jump in a hot shower or place a warm compress on your breasts to initiate the flow of milk. However, make sure you don’t spend more than 5 minutes under the heat, or the swelling could actually worsen.
- Massage it out (can be done with a partner!)
If you’re breastfeeding, in order to get the most out of each nursing session, gently massage your breast when Baby pauses between sucks, because this can help drain as much milk as possible. A gentle massage at any time of day can help improve milk flow and reduce engorgement. If you’re feeling up to it, a partner could facilitate with the gentle massaging technique, to help reduce the workload for you.
- Pump it up (or out)
If you’re breastfeeding, even if it hurts at first, hand-expressing some of your milk can help reduce swelling and soften your areola so that your infant can nurse more effectively. If you’ve fed your newborn and your breasts still feel full, pumping can be a good alternative to help relieve milk pressure. Pumping and freezing milk for later can also be a great way to bank some extra sleep in the future, if your body is producing more milk than your little one is hungry for – you may feel uncomfortable now, but you won’t mind later if it means Baby can feed from a bottle of milk that’s already expressed, and you can wait another couple of hours to nurse again. If you’re not breastfeeding, this treatment is not recommended, since it can make it take longer for your milk to dry up.
- Remind yourself that the feeling is common and should pass quickly.
Unless there is a more serious medical issue, usually signaled by fever and increased swelling, breast engorgement lasts for an average of 24 to 48 hours. If you nurse or pump well, making sure to take care of you and your newborn, your breasts should feel relatively normal in a couple of days.
If you’re out of the house, and these tips aren’t practical, your healthcare provider may recommend a safe over the counter medication like ibuprofen for the discomfort, but make sure to check in with him or her before taking any medication, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
- “Breast Engorgement.” CHOP. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, August 1 2012. Web.
- “Engorgement.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
- “Engorgement.” Australian Breastfeeding Association. Australian Breastfeeding Association, October 2014. Web.