How to Relieve Engorged Breasts
Breastfeeding success most often depends on mums having the right information at their fingertips in those first crucial days, in addition to getting support. So, if you are pregnant, set this article aside now but remind yourself (a calendar alert is a good idea!) to look at it 1-5 days after birth. That is when engorgement peaks, and you will want these tips (and video) handy.
What to Expect as You Start Breastfeeding
From the beginning, your baby will suck colostrum from your breast, sometimes called ‘liquid gold’ because it is rich with immune-boosting antibodies and protein. Then your milk ‘starts to come in’ 3-5 days after birth and your breast will feel full, warm and heavy for 1-2 days (all totally normal). Both blood and milk are rushing to your breasts! Feeding your baby frequently is important during the early days of your child’s life.
What is breast engorgement?
You will know you are engorged when your breasts are swollen, very firm, hot and painful. The skin may feel tight or look shiny. Swelling may go all the way to your armpit. Ouch!
How to Relieve Engorged Breasts at Home
Below you will find tips for how to treat breast engorgement.
- Feed your little one often. It is hands-down the best thing to do!
- Sometimes your breast is so hard your baby’s mouth just pops off! You will want to hand express some milk and massage toward the armpit before your baby latches. You can also do reverse pressure to soften around the nipple.
- To relieve pressure/pain, hand express for a few minutes until you feel better (but do not drain the breast).
- Between feedings you can use cold compresses, bags of frozen vegetables, ice packs etc. Some women swear by gel ‘soothies’ that are cooled in the fridge.
- Apply moist heat BEFORE you breastfeed (warm shower, warm towel, warm compress). This will help your milk let down. A cool trick is to put a few tablespoons of water in a nappy and heat it in the microwave for 10 seconds to make a compress that holds its heat well. Just make sure it is not so hot to burn or irritate your skin!
- Ask your healthcare provider if ibuprofen can be used for breast swelling or pain.
Will Engorged Breasts Go Away?
As you breastfeed and empty your breasts, engorgement should get better in a day or two. However, if you cannot or are unable to breastfeed, breast engorgement may last several days, which if untreated, may lead to plugged ducts or mastitis.
Will Pumping Make Engorgement Worse?
Pumping should not make engorgement worse—in fact, it might help alleviate engorgement. If your breast is engorged, it might become too firm for your baby to latch. Pumping a little bit before breastfeeding may help soften the areola and lengthen the nipple to make it easier for your infant to connect with your breast.
Watch & Learn the Techniques
When to Get More Breastfeeding Help
- Call your healthcare provider right away if your breast is red and painful, you have flu-like symptoms or you have a temp of +38 degrees.
- Seek advice from a lactation consultant if your engorgement and related pain do not improve within 2 days.
Breast Engorgement: Final Thoughts
Engorgement is a top reason women abandon breastfeeding. Share this advice with a pregnant friend (or mom who just gave birth...but act fast!) and you will have done a very good deed!
Advice is adapted from materials by Breastfeeding Medicine of Northeast Ohio.
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.