How to avoid and soothe breast engorgement?

What is breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement is breast swelling that results in painful, tender breasts. It’s caused by an increase in blood flow and milk supply in your breasts, and it occurs in the first days after childbirth.

Breast engorgement is the result of increased blood flow in your breasts in the days after the delivery of a baby. The increased blood flow helps your breasts make ample milk, but it can also cause pain and discomfort.
Milk production may not occur until three to five days postpartum. Engorgement may occur for the first time in the first week or two after delivery. It can also reoccur at any point if you continue to breastfeed.

The symptoms of breast engorgement will be different for each person. However, breasts that are engorged may feel:

  • hard or tight
  • tender or warm to touch
  • heavy or full
  • lumpy
  • swollen
The swelling may be contained to one breast, or it may occur in both. Swelling can also extend up the breast and into the nearby armpit.
Some with breast engorgement may experience a low-grade fever and fatigue in the first days of milk production. This is sometimes called a “milk fever.” You can continue to nurse if you have this fever.
However, it’s a good idea to alert your doctor to your increased temperature. That’s because some infections in the breast can cause fever, too, and these infections need to be treated before they become bigger issues.

For those who are breastfeeding, treatments for breast engorgement include:

  • using a warm compress, or taking a warm shower to encourage milk let down
  • feeding more regularly, or at least every one to three hours
  • nursing for as long as the baby is hungry
  • massaging your breasts while nursing
  • applying a cold compress or ice pack to relieve pain and swelling
  • alternating feeding positions to drain milk from all areas of the breast
  • alternating breasts at feedings so your baby empties your supply
  • hand expressing or using a pump when you can’t nurse
  • taking doctor-approved pain medication

You can’t prevent breast engorgement in the first days after giving birth. Until your body knows how to regulate your milk production, you may overproduce.
However, you can prevent later episodes of breast engorgement with these tips and techniques:

  • Feed or pump regularly. Your body makes milk regularly, regardless of nursing schedule. Nurse your baby at least every one to three hours. Pump if your baby isn’t hungry or you’re away.
  • Use ice packs to decrease supply. In addition to cooling and calming inflamed breast tissue, ice packs and cold compresses may help decrease milk supply. That’s because the cool packs turn off the “let down” signal in your breasts that tells your body to make more milk.
  • Remove small amounts of breast milk. If you need to relieve the pressure, you can hand express some breast milk or pump a bit. Don’t pump or express too much, however. It could backfire on you, and your body may end up trying to produce more milk to make up for what you just removed
  • Wean slowly. If you’re too quick to stop nursing, your weaning plan may backfire.
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