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What You Need to Know About Breast Engorgement

Every woman’s breastfeeding journey is personal and different. Some women have a great experience with plenty of milk and baby-bonding moments, while others may struggle with milk production or latching issues. 

Breast engorgement is one problem many women will face while breastfeeding. It’s uncomfortable when it happens, but you can take steps to ease the pain and swelling. 

What is breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement is a swelling of the breasts when there’s an oversupply of milk in your breast ducts. It can make your breasts feel hard, lumpy, and very tender. The swelling and pain can even extend up to your armpits. Breast engorgement commonly happens after giving birth when your breast milk starts to come in. It can also occur at other times as well. Other causes include:

  • Missing a feeding
  • Nursing a sick baby that isn’t eating as much
  • Weaning too quickly
  • Schedule changes – starting daycare, going back to work, the baby is sleeping longer, etc.
  • Producing too much milk

Do you get breast engorgement after giving birth?

Yes, you can frequently get breast engorgement after giving birth. When your baby is first born, your breasts produce a substance called colostrum. This thick, yellow substance is packed with proteins, nutrients, and antibodies for your little one. 

Over the next 2-4 days, the colostrum gradually changes to breast milk. This is your breast milk “coming in.”

Read More: What is in Pink Stork Clogged Duct Tea?

During this change from colostrum to breast milk, your breasts become fuller and more firm. Blood flow increases to your breasts which helps increase your milk production. Unfortunately, this can also cause tenderness and pain as your body adjusts to this new change.

What can cause an overabundant milk supply?

Breast engorgement happens when there’s an overabundant supply of milk. Many things can cause you to make too much milk:

  • Over-pumping
  • Not fully emptying the breasts during each feeding or pumping session
  • You have higher than normal levels of prolactin. Prolactin stimulates milk production
  • Baby is refusing to nurse
  • Certain medications can cause you to over-produce breast milk
  • Breast implants can block the flow of milk

What is milk fever?

Milk fever is a term used to describe breast engorgement after giving birth. It refers to the run-down feeling and low-grade fever (less than 101 F) some women get when their milk comes in. Continuing to breastfeed will help relieve these symptoms faster.

Read More: 6 Breastfeeding Secrets Every New Mom Should Know

Milk fever should not be confused with mastitis. Mastitis is an infection and inflammation in the breast that should be taken care of by your healthcare provider. If you have a fever over 101 F, as well as pain, redness, and flu-like symptoms, contact your provider. If left untreated, mastitis can lead to bigger complications, and you may have to stop breastfeeding.

What are the complications of engorged breasts?

Having engorged breasts during your breastfeeding journey is normal, and it will usually resolve in a day or two. However, engorgement can cause issues for the nursing baby and even force some families to stop breastfeeding.

Some babies may have trouble latching because the breast is too hard or the let-down reflex is too strong. The let-down reflex is what allows breast milk to flow. When it’s too firm, it can cause gagging and choking because milk is being released too fast. 

Continuously engorged breasts can also bring about a low supply of milk. When breasts aren’t fully emptied, they can signal the body to lower milk production.

Read More: Getting a Proper Breastfeeding Latch: What to do

If you’re continuously experiencing breast engorgement, problems can occur outside of just pain and discomfort. Engorgement can lead to clogged ducts, blisters on the nipples, and mastitis. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, talk to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant for advice.

How to relieve breast engorgement

Feeding your baby is the best way to relieve the pain and discomfort of breast engorgement. Nurse your baby or pump at least every 3 hours and ensure you’re emptying the breasts each time. Don’t skip any sessions. 

Your body will adjust its milk production as your baby continues to feed and you adapt to this new change.

You can also try relieving breast engorgement with a few of these ideas:

Pump or hand express a small amount of milk: Remove just enough to relieve some pressure. Doing this just before feeding can also soften the breasts a little, making it easier for the baby to latch. Don’t express too much, though; your body may produce more milk to make up for what you just took out.

Massage the breasts while nursing or pumping: Helps to empty the breasts fully.

Use a warm compress just before nursing: The warmth from the compress can activate your let-down reflex, which will get your milk flowing and make it easier for your baby to nurse.

Use a cold compress or cabbage leaves in between feedings: Yes, cabbage leaves! Cooling down the breasts can lower milk production and ease the pain and discomfort you’re engorged.

Slowly wean the baby off the breast: Weaning too fast can cause your breasts to over-produce milk. Wean slowly so your body can adjust to your baby’s milk needs.

Read More: What is Cluster Feeding and How Long Will it Last?

Patience is important.

Many nursing parents are sent home with a new baby and little instruction on breastfeeding. Both mom and baby have to learn how to breastfeed. Try to have patience with yourself and your baby during this transition. 

A lot of nursing parents have problems that come up at some point. You’re not alone in your struggles. Lactation consultants and your healthcare provider are there to help you succeed.

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We recommend Pink Stork Clogged Duct Tea for your mastitis, engorgement, and plugged duct needs. Also, use our Total Lactation Probiotic and Smooth Vanilla Lactation Tea for your nursing journey. For DHA support, consider our DHA or Total Postnatal + DHA.