If you’ve just had a baby and you’re feeling uncomfortably full, and even leaking, you’re not alone. Breast engorgement is common in new mums, especially in the days following birth while your milk is coming in. Engorgement can be uncomfortable and even painful, and it can make it more difficult for your baby to latch, leading to further discomfort. The good news is that breast engorgement is temporary, and there are some things you can do to alleviate it. We’ve put together our best breast engorgement remedies.

What causes breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement happens when your breasts are not being emptied as fast as you’re producing milk. What happens is your milk ducts become so full of milk that the surrounding tissue becomes inflamed. Your  breasts will feel very firm (like a muscle) and it will likely feel uncomfortable to wear a bra or lean against your breasts. It’s also not uncommon for a newborn baby to have difficulty latching onto an engorged breast. Engorgement is common in early breastfeeding, especially in the first few days after birth when your milk comes in. Levels of prolactin are at their highest during this week, which means breastmilk production is also at it’s highest. When you consider that there’s a newborn baby still learning how to breastfeed and who doesn’t need to drink that much milk to fill her stomach, then you’ll easily end up with an excess of milk in the breasts.

breast engorgement remedies
Breast engorgment is often accompanied by leaking (photo courtesy of the Badass Breastfeeder).

When will I stop getting engorged?

Breast engorgement is common in the first 10 or so weeks postpartum, and especially during the first week. This is the time when your body is getting your milk supply regulated. It’s common to feel engorged if baby sleeps extra long, and even wake up every day to wet spots on the sheet from leaking breasts. This is completely normal. As time goes on, levels of prolactin will decrease and your body will get used to the supply-and-demand cycle of breastfeeding. You’ll get into a natural rhythm, and your body will start producing just enough milk to follow this pattern. This usually happens around 10 weeks postpartum when you’re exclusively breastfeeding: you’ll notice that one day you aren’t waking up feeling as full, your breasts feel softer even after going longer without feeding, and you aren’t soaking breast pads.

Engorged breasts can make it difficult for newborn babies to latch. Try these breast engorgement remedies.

Breast engorgement remedies

If you’re feeling engorged, here are some breast engorgement remedies you can try to alleviate the discomfort.

Warm compress before feeding, cool compress after

A warm compress before feeding will help relax and soften the breast tissue and milk ducts, making it easier for baby to latch and milk to start flowing. After you’re done feeding, you can apply a cold compress to reduce any inflammation in the milk ducts which will help the feeling of engorgement. You can also talk to your doctor or pharmacist to recommend anti-inflammatory medications that are safe while breastfeeding.

Pump before breastfeeding

Breast engorgement can be especially frustrating because some newborn babies have difficulty latching onto an engorged breast. This makes matters worse because the breast isn’t getting drained. Before breastfeeding, you can hand express or pump for a couple of minutes to remove some of the excess milk. This will soften your breast and nipple, making it easier for baby to latch.

breast engorgement remedies - pumping before feeding makes it easier for baby to latch

Breast massage while pumping and breastfeeding

If you’re engorged make sure you’re practicing hands-on pumping techniques, like breast massage and compression. Massage in gentle circles beginning at the top of the breast and down toward the nipple. Or, cup your breast and apply gentle pressure. If you’re engorged you’ll have to be gentle to prevent further inflammation of the breast tissue.

How to prevent breast engorgement

Breast engorgement is common during the first few weeks after your baby is born, while your milk supply is being established. Here are some things you can do to prevent breast engorgement.

Check your baby’s latch

Breast engorgement is caused by an oversupply of milk in the breast. One thing to check is whether your baby is adequately draining your breasts. You can do weighted feeds (weigh your baby, breastfeed, and then weigh your baby again to see how much milk has transferred). If you feel not a lot of milk is being drawn from the breast, check your baby’s latch: baby’s chin should be tucked under and lips flared out as shown in the image below, and you should be able to see or hear your baby swallowing. It’s important to note that sometimes latches look good, but might not feel good. If you’re experiencing pain while breastfeeding, you should get the latch assessed by a lactation consultant.

Breast engorgement remedies: Check your baby's latch to ensure proper draining of the breast.

Note: If you want to do weighted feeds, talk to your baby’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant to find out how much milk your baby should be eating at each feed.

Check your flange size and pumping techniques

If you’re regularly pumping and experiencing breast engorgement, you should check your breast pump accessories and pumping techniques. This is especially important if you’re exclusively expressing because it can impact your milk supply.

  • Does your breast have a good seal with the breastshield? When you’re pumping, it’s important to grab your breast and insert it into the breastshield so that your nipple is as far down into the flange as possible. This creates a good seal, which is important to adequately drain your breasts while pumping.
  • Have you measured for your breastshield size? Using the wrong sized breastshield can lead to breast engorgement because you’re not fully draining the breast. After you pump, measure the diameter of your swollen nipple. The breastshield you use should be 2-3mm larger in size. You can download and print out our free nipple ruler to measure breastshield size.
  • Do your valves need replacement? If you’ve checked everything else and you feel your pump isn’t fully draining your breasts, it may be time to replace your valves. Duck valves should be replaced every 1-3 months, and valve membranes should be replaced every few weeks.
  • Always pump until empty. Pump until you see the milkflow stop, and then keep pumping for 5 minutes after to ensure you’ve fully drained your breasts. You should use hands-on pumping techniques like breast massage and compression, too.

If you’re not sure about any of the above mentioned, you can visit the Pumpables Fitting Room and we can help assess flange size and pumping technique for you 🙂

pumpables milk genie three size breastshields
It’s important to use the correct sized breastshield while pumping. This is why we’ve included 3 sizes with the Pumpables Milk Genie!

Breast massage while pumping and breastfeeding

Hands-on pumping and breastfeeding is important because it ensures your breasts are being fully drained. It’s important to fully drain your breasts, especially if you’re pumping exclusively, because it’s how you signal your breasts to make more milk. Not adequately draining your breasts can lead to engorgement, plugged ducts, or mastitis.

When to worry

Breast engorgement is common and normal, but there are some situations when you should definitely worry. If breast engorgement is ever accompanied by pain – especially in one breast – you could have a plugged duct. There are methods for treating a plugged duct at home, but if you haven’t been able to clear it within 2 days you should see a doctor. If you’re experiencing fever, chills or rash along with pain, this could be mastitis, which is an infection of a breast. You should see a doctor immediately if you believe you have mastitis because it can get very bad, fast.

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