Everything You Need To Know About Breast Engorgement

Along with the happiness of becoming a mum, comes great responsibility too!

We all know that breast milk is the best food for your baby and breastfeeding connects & bonds the baby & mom emotionally.

But many a times, breastfeeding doesn’t go as smooth as it sounds in the commercials that emphasize “mother’s milk is the best milk for your baby”.

Any women including me, who has undergone this painful phase of breast engorgement will agree upon this!

This post aims at throwing more light on this topic…Let’s see it in a Q & A format…

WHAT IS BREAST ENGORGEMENT?

It is primarily caused by the expansion of the milk ducts in the mammary glands & also due to the pressure in them.

It usually happens when the glands start producing mature milk after the colostrum phase within days of childbirth.  Engorgement could also occur in lactating mothers who end up missing feeding their baby regularly or did not manage to express milk present in the breasts completely.

If the milk ducts are blocked or there is insufficient milk expressed in the form of breastfeeding, the breasts continue to engorge causing swelling and mild to severe pain.

Though there is abundant milk in the glands, there might be low supply of milk to the baby due to engorgement.

HOW TO IDENTIFY IF BREASTS ARE ENGORGED?

If your breasts feel heavy, bulky or bulged out a few days after delivery, it is normal for them to be so. It is switching from colostrum to mature milk, plus the glands are revving up to meet the milk needs of the baby all through the day.

It could also be due to the additional blood & lymph fluids flowing through the breasts. This heaviness & fullness should subside on its own in a week or two’s time, once your milk supply gets regular.

But if your breasts feel lumpy, hard to touch, stone-like, swollen, feels full & heavy all the time with mild to severe pain – it is engorgement! Not just the breast tissue, the areola & nipples can be tight & painful too…

The armpits can get swollen and painful with a lump with continuous accumulation of milk up till them.

engorgement1

WHAT CAUSES ENGORGEMENT OF THE BREASTS?

Following are the reasons why one could get their breasts engorged (not exhaustive) –

– Not nursing the baby frequently or regularly

– Not draining the breasts enough with each feed

– Not balancing feed on both the breasts and feeding with only one breast at a time/always

– Have implants occupying more space that obstruct your milk ducts

– Wear a tight bra post partum

Not every mom faces breast engorgement –  at the same time – it can happen even if you nurse your baby regularly. There is no thumb rule for it to occur or not to!

Unchecked and untreated breast engorgement can lead to mastitis (severe inflammation of the breast).

CAN I PREVENT MY BREAST FROM GETTING ENGORGED?

Here are some ways that might help –

– Nurse regularly atleast 8 times a day. Even if the baby is sleeping for more than 3 hrs., wake up the baby, snuggle with it & encourage it to take feed.

– In case of sore nipples or leaving the baby in someone else’s care, express the milk & refrigerate it. Refrigerated breast milk can be mildly warmed & fed to the baby until upto 24 hrs. as per my lactation consultant.

– Feed from both the breasts every time your nurse the baby. Give atleast 10 minutes time before switching from one breast to another.

– If you fed from only one breast the last time, make sure you make the baby use the other one next time you feed. This ensures one breast from getting engorged and also giving time to another to replenish its stock.

– Try to reduce feeding expressed milk as much as possible and encourage the baby to feed directly from you. The baby will find it tough to switch between yours & the bottle’s nipple. Once babies get a hang of the feeding bottle’s nipple, they will refuse to take feed directly from you.

– Whenever the baby has refused feed or your breasts are leaking milk, make sure you express milk to avoid engorgement.

HOW TO REDUCE/TREAT ENGORGED BREASTS?

There are a lot of home remedies practiced since ages in our country for breast engorgement. Medical aid is available too.

Listing few easy remedies here –

– Keep nursing the baby frequently, say every 2-3 hours. With regular sucking by the baby, the milk flow will improve & excess milk in the ducts will be drained out.

– Try hand expressing with soft presses on the glands.

– Warm compress & hot water bags can be placed to soothe pain & swelling and also to aid with milk flow. If your breasts are engorged heavily and the milk doesn’t seem to flow out,  hot water bag might not help.

– Place a pouch of ice cubes or even a bag of frozen peas or corns over your breasts for 5-10 minutes to help soothe the breasts & reduce swelling.

– Use a breast pump to express out milk if the above options don’t seem to work. If its an electric pump, keep it in low setting for the first few minutes, so that it doesn’t cause even more pain.

– Take a painkiller to reduce pain after consultation with your gynaec or physician.

– Keep some kajra (mogra/jasmine) flowers inside your blouse. This is the grandma’s version to soothe & soften breasts while engorged in India.

A cabbage leaf in your bra helps sooth sore, engorged breasts too.

– Oxytocin hormone available in the form of injection can be inhaled under medical supervision.

breastpump

HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS SITUATION?

Of course, breast engorgement is a tough & upheaving situation & many women find it painful & irritating.

You would have just come out of the memories of the labor pain, the pain of your c-section or vaginal stitches is still fresh and now you are given to deal with another tough task.

Breast engorgement – the pain & discomfort it causes is also one of the reasons of post-partum depression. It does tend to affect the emotional bondage you have with your baby through breastfeeding.

You might be more irritable than ever & would just want to get over it & stop breastfeeding altogether too!

Continue to breastfeed.. Yes! Its a must!

Depending on the amount of engorgement & the action taken to mitigate it, it might take upto 2 days to get rid of it. If left untreaten it might cause duct blockage leading to breast infections & mastitis.

Relax.. and look ahead! You shall get over this too & enjoy the “sweet nothings time” with your baby again while you continue to nurse him/her.

My case – 

I picked up engorgement of the breasts, 3 days after post partum.

We were doing some mandatory health checkups & neo-natal screening on the newborn like thyroid, neo-natal jaundice, etc. and so I couldn’t feed the baby at regular intervals. Later in the evening, I started feeling heavy which continued to increase inspite of nursing the baby from the evening regularly.

When the pain became unbearable & I noticed lumps near the armpits, we rushed to the hospital, where I was asked to put hot water bags to soothe the breasts and manually express at every 10 minutes time.

A manual breast pump didn’t work any great for me & utilized the hospital’s electric  breast pump.  I had to buy the required apparatus myself other than the electric pump provided by the hospital for hygienic reasons.

My gynaec prescribed me to inhale a couple of oxytocin injections sprayed over some tissue paper which helped clear the blockage in the milk ducts. This is to be done strictly under medical supervision!

Though expressing milk using an electric pump was slightly painful in the initial few minutes, the thought of getting relieved of heaviness from the chest kept me going.

It took me almost half a day to express out all the milk and for my breasts to become tender & back in normal size. Huge relief it was!

I did have thoughts coming up in mind like –

“Why on earth a woman only has to undergo all of this?”

“I haven’t got over my labor & stitches down there, and now you? Welcome!”

“I would rather like my breasts chomped off, Doc”

“I don’t want to breastfeed anymore and undergo this in the future ever again! Do you all get that?”

LOL… These sound really funny to me now.. But these were the exact thoughts that ran through my mind that moment! 😀

I’m glad I got over it.. and took care that I don’t let that damned engorgement come ever near me! 🙂

Have you gone through engorgement too? What were your thoughts when you were going through it?

Do share any simple home remedy that you know of which can help with breast engorgement….

 

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