Full, heavy and uncomfortable? Understand why your breasts are engorged – and how to soothe them
Chances are the word ‘engorged’ has come up in your new-mum vocab at some point. Signs include your breasts feeling full, large and hard, often up to your armpit, as well as perhaps pain and your baby struggling to stay latched on.
‘It often happens in the first few days, whether you’re breastfeeding or not, as your milk comes in,’ says lactation consultant Katherine Fisher.
‘And then later on, it can become an issue for several reasons, including your baby not draining your breast fully or because you’ve missed a feed.’
The reassuring thing? It’s very common – and there are steps you can take to ease it.
Give baby a feed
The best way to drain your breast is feeding, so try this first.
‘If your baby can’t latch on because the breast tissue is too swollen and hard, try expressing 10 or 20ml of milk to soften it and encourage your nipple to come out more,’ says Katherine.
Express, express, express
An alternative is expressing, whether manually or using a pump. Just do as much as your little one will need for a feed.
If your baby can’t latch on because the breast tissue is too swollen and hard, try expressing 10 or 20ml of milk to soften it
‘You don’t need to completely empty your breast,’ says Katherine. ‘One possible cause of engorgement is actually over-expressing, which can increase your milk supply so much that your baby can’t keep up with it.’
Go cold to soothe
When pain stops you doing either of the above, turn to the ice pack. Failing an actual one, a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel. ‘Apply it right around your breast and up to your armpit for eight to 10 minutes,’ says Katherine. ‘It can help your nipple start dripping milk so you can move onto expressing.’
Some women find a warm bath or compress helpful, but at this stage cold tends to work better – plus some paracetamol or ibuprofen (it’s anti-inflammatory).
Massage can increase circulation and ease discomfort – but it doesn’t need to be a hardcore pummelling.
‘Don’t use your fingertips as your breast can bruise easily,’ says Katherine. ‘Instead, use the flat of your hand to push downwards.’ A comb or some oil can help, too.
Give it time
Engorgement can take a few days to settle down, so keep feeding or expressing regularly – and making yourself as comfortable as possible. Also don’t ignore your breasts and those cues it’s time for a feed.
‘Engorgement can develop into mastitis, so if you’re in bad pain, have a temperature or shivers, definitely seek help,’ says Katherine.
What are your tips for easing engorgement? Let us know on the comments board below.