Updated on January 21, 2016
Seven Tips to Help With Breast Engorgement
You’ve just had your baby (congratulations mama!) and your milk is in! Hooray, but OUCH! If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to have two curling rocks attached to your chest, all you need to do is have your milk come in. It’s a wonderful moment as a new mom to know you’ve got milk, but at the same time it can be pretty darned uncomfortable. Forget lying down on your side, those two rock hard bowling balls don’t stack well. Maybe you were desperate to sleep on your stomach now that your baby is on the outside? Guess again! The discomfort of breast engorgement is no laughing matter, but discomfort may be the least of your worries. Right around the time your milk comes in and your breasts swell up to high heaven, your baby may start to struggle with his or her latch. A poor latch means sore nipples, and NOBODY wants that! The good news is, there are some things you can do to help with engorgement that can also encourage a better latch from baby.
1. Learn to hand express. This is a skill that all new moms should try to learn as soon as possible! When you hear (or see) baby starting to stir, you know they’ll be waking up soon for a feeding. This is when you want to hand express a small amount of milk off both breasts (do yourself a favour and save the milk). You aren’t trying to express to empty the breast, but rather just enough to soften the nipple and areola. This will make it significantly easier for baby to latch onto the breast. At the peak of engorgement, it’s like trying to latch onto a perfectly round smooth bowling ball. Baby will have difficulty latching on and may slide right off the breast leading to nipple trauma. Softening up a bit through hand expression makes latching much easier for both of you.You can also hand express after feeding if you’re still uncomfortably full. You only want to express until you are comfortable. Again, you want to save this milk. Unlike pumping, hand expression does not tell your body that it needs to produce more milk, but it will make you more comfortable.If you aren’t sure how to hand express properly, check youtube. That’s how I learned! There are lots of videos of women hand expressing and it is really helpful to see how it’s done so you don’t hurt yourself! You want to start by gently massaging the breast from the chest wall (right up to under the armpit) towards the nipple around the whole breast.
2. Use a pump (sparingly). A pump can be a very useful tool, but too much pumping can actually make engorgement worse. Pumping does tell your body that you need more milk at that time, so it triggers your body to produce even more. When you’re already uncomfortable due to engorgement, that’s the last thing you want! If you want to use the pump to help with engorgement, you want to use it before a feed and only pump off about one ounce from each breast. This is just enough to soften the nipple and areola to make latching easier without triggering an increase in supply. As always, save that milk!
3. Use cold compresses. In between feedings, if you are experiencing discomfort, cold compresses are great. This will help reduce the swelling. While warm compresses get the milk flowing, they don’t help with the swelling, so stick to cold compresses if you’re trying to reduce engorgement in between feeds.
4. Take a hot shower. A hot or warm shower is a great tool to get the milk flowing. Better yet, hand express in the shower to make yourself comfortable. It’s best to stand with your back to the stream of water. Even water spray from the shower can be painful on engorged breasts.
5. Breast compressions during feeding. Breast compressions, or massaging the breast from the chest wall towards the nipple, helps drain the breast more effectively. Since baby feeding is the ultimate way to drain your breast, compressions during a feed can help baby along thereby reducing engorgement.
6. Stuff your bra. You probably think I’m nuts to suggest adding more to those no doubt overflowing cups, but I promise this won’t take up much room! I’m talking about stuffing your bra with cabbage leaves. No, I’m not joking. Keep a stack of washed full cabbage leaves in the fridge to use instead of cold compresses in between feeds. You’ll want to use these carefully and not too often (no more than a couple of times a day for 20 minutes). Cabbage leaves can actually reduce your milk supply, and when you’ve just had a baby and are starting with breastfeeding you don’t actually want to reduce your supply. The goal is to reduce the discomfort and swelling from the engorgement. Cabbage leaves a couple times a day for short periods of time is okay, but don’t use them more often than that.
7. Nurse baby often. Keeping your newborn close and nursing on demand more frequently can actually help with the discomfort of engorgement. Make sure baby is emptying one breast before moving baby to the other side to continue feeding. It’s important that you work on getting a good position and a good latch with baby every time. Sometimes it helps to unlatch and reposition baby once the breast has softened up after a few minutes of nursing. This can also be a good time to wipe up the whole area: baby’s face and your breast. You may find that there’s milk EVERYWHERE and that can make getting a good latch fairly challenging. Simply drying that whole business can make a big difference.
If you’re dealing with breast engorgement, hopefully these tips can help you out! Remember that if your breasts remain engorged for more than a couple of days, you feel unwell or flu-ish, and have a high fever, you should consult with your health care provider right away.
How have you dealt with breast engorgement when your milk came in? Are there any tips that you can share?