First of all, congratulations on your new bundle of joy! We hope that you’re looking after yourself as much as your new baby. We know you’ll likely be experiencing so many new feelings (engorged breasts are we right?) and emotions during this exciting new period in your life, so it is important to reach out to close family and friends for support around this time.
Many breastfeeding mothers, new or experienced, will experience engorged breasts at one time or another. It’s not the most pleasant feeling in the world, but we’re here to help you understand why breast engorgement happens, and what methods you can do to relieve any pain and discomfort.
What is Breast Engorgement?
Breast engorgement is when a breastfeeding mother experiences her breasts becoming overly full with breast milk, fluids, swelling and else which mostly occurs after baby is born and your milk is transitioning. This can cause pain and discomfort, ranging from mild to severe.
In the early days after giving birth, the breasts produce a nectar-coloured substance called colostrum. This nutrient-rich first milk is very concentrated so your baby will only need a small amount at each feed to feel full.
In the first week after birth, your newborn will want to feed quite often, this is because their stomachs are so tiny at this point and can only accommodate a small amount of milk.
As the days go by, the mature breast milk will start to be produced. This is your milk transitioning process . It is at this point that the breasts can feel like they’re becoming engorged. This happens because the breasts begin to rapidly produce milk, but the newborn baby is not yet ready to feed on so much milk just yet.
Luckily, breast engorgement isn’t permanent and you can try different methods to help relieve the pain.
Symptoms of Breast Engorgement
Swelling of the Breasts
You may notice that your breasts swell to a larger size, and seem swollen. Your areola and nipples will appear stretched and tight.
Your breasts will feel like they are quite literally bursting with milk, you may feel a stretching sensation as they become fuller. It may be hard to get your baby to latch on as your nipples will be extremely stretched and your overall breasts will feel sore and tender.
Noticeable Increase in Breast Size
As your breasts fill with breast milk, you will notice a significant increase in their size.
Hard and Full
Your breasts can feel rock hard losing their natural softness, and there won't be much movement from them.
Throbbing or Aching Pain
This is the most common symptom of engorged breasts. You may feel a dull and continuous throbbing sensation on both of your breasts and they may feel as though they are aching.
Why Does Breast Engorgement Happen?
Breast engorgement occurs when there is an increase of fluid production in your breast region, this is more milk, fluid, blood flow , lymph fluid. Excess milk production can happen for many different reasons which we will explore below:
Oversupply of Milk
Oversupply is when your breasts are producing more breast milk than what the baby needs. This often happens within the first 4-6 weeks of breastfeeding. Your supply should usually settle down once your newborn establishes a regular feeding pattern. Some women continue to produce an oversupply so that they can hand express milk and store it for later down the line when the baby begins weaning.
We have a variety of wonderful breast milk storage products available here.
Baby Latches Incorrectly
You may experience breast engorgement if your baby isn’t latching on correctly. If the newborn doesn’t latch properly, then they will find it difficult to drink the milk that they need, thus leaving your breasts still full with the milk they should have drank. You can ask your midwife or health visitor for help and support with latching on. It may be a case that your baby has tongue-tie, but this can be explored with your professional healthcare worker.
Clogged Milk Ducts
Blocked ducts will feel like small, knot-like, little lumps in your breasts. They are the result of a milk duct not draining of milk properly. They may feel sore and tender. You can gently massage these and your breast tissue to encourage blood flow and expel any excess milk that may be blocked.
Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue that can sometimes involve an infection. Your breasts will very noticeably become hot, painful and inflamed. You may experience flu-like symptoms. Mastitis is very common in breastfeeding women and usually goes away on its own without the need for medical intervention.
A breast infection is when the common bacteria finds a way into your body through the cracks around your nipples. Cracked nipples are very common in the early stages of breastfeeding as your nipples simply won't be used to the suckling of your newborn.
You can purchase breastfeeding creams to ease cracked nipples, or purchase our Pippeta Silver Nip Cups which act as a natural antiseptic and antibacterial aid, and will quite frankly become your new best friend.
How Can I Relieve Engorged Breasts?
Hand Express Milk
You can hand express a large amount of breast milk by massaging your breasts. Start with carefully massaging around your armpit area in a circular motion with your first two fingers. Slowly and gradually massage down towards your areola.
Keep repeating this until you start to see the breast milk flow out of your nipples. You can catch the milk in a baby feeding bottle, or a breastmilk storage bag to refrigerate or even freeze for future use.
Express Milk with a Breast Pump
If you don’t want to use your hand to relieve your engorged breasts you may want to invest in a breast pump. We have many different types of breast pumps available to purchase, ranging from traditional hand pumps to LED electric breast pumps. A breast pump does exactly what your hand would do, only it is quicker, and more accurate in expressing the breast milk into an appropriate storage container. They’re great for a quick and easy breast pumping session.
Cold Compress or Ice Packs
You can gently massage your breasts to increase blood flow, and then apply a cold compress or ice pack every hour for around 10-15 minutes as and when needed. This will relieve some of the pain you're experiencing.
Warm Shower or Warm Compress
Before breastfeeding, a warm shower or putting a warm wet towel over your breasts will help to encourage milk flow.
Over the Counter Painkillers
Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (paracetamol) can help relieve the pain of breast engorgement, along with the other methods we have suggested. Always read the label for correct dosage and contraindications.
A very unusual method, but it works! The cabbage leaf is large enough to cover your engorged breasts and they have a natural absorbing quality, helping to absorb fluid in the breast tissue and reduce the fullness in the breasts. Many breastfeeding mothers have reported seeing an improvement within 12 hours of using cabbage leaves.
Some breastfeeding mothers find that they need a well-fitting, supportive bra as it helps to give them the support they need and help reduce engorgement pain.
Help and Support for Breastfeeding
We hope that you have found some solutions to help you relieve engorged breasts in this article. If you’re still struggling with any aspect of breastfeeding then please don’t despair, there are so many ways that you can be supported:
- Lactation Consultant
- Healthcare Visitor or your Midwife
- Medical Advice from your GP
- NHS website and other relevant websites
You may find breastfeeding forums useful as you will be able to talk to other breastfeeding mothers, whether new to it or more experienced, and find emotional support and practical solutions to breastfeeding.
We're an award-winning business, most recently earning a 'Made For Mums' award from Mumsnet for this hands free breast pump. We’re on a mission to empower breastfeeding mothers and support them in continuing their breastfeeding journey. We’re here to support and provide the best advice and breastfeeding products on the market. Along with this, we provide free shipping on orders over £50, a 1-year warranty on breast pumps, a 14-day free returns policy and we are rated excellent by our customers.