breast Engorgement

Top reasons for breast engorgement and ways to find comfort

Getting breastfeeding right is nothing less than mastering a unique technique, especially if you are a first-time mother. And as you know that breast milk is the best gift you can give your little one for the first 6 months, you might be anxious to get it perfectly right. This means handling problems like engorged breasts efficiently, so that neither you nor the baby suffers.

Breast engorgement is the condition in which the breasts become excessively filled or “engorged” with milk. This can cause extreme discomfort, and even pain. The breasts might exhibit tenderness too, when slightly swollen, and hardness, when severely engorged. So, it’s time you find out more and learn ways to manage the problem.

Reasons for breast engorgement and ways to relieve it

Most mothers will experience engorgement of their breasts at some point of time during the breastfeeding phase. Mothers especially worry about how to relieve engorged breasts when they are about to stop breastfeeding. What you need to remember is that breast engorgement is your body’s response to the changing feeding requirements and habits of your baby. Some of the reasons for breast engorgement include:

  • Missed feeding
  • Delayed initiation of feeding
  • Change in time and frequency at which the baby nurses the breast
  • Introducing solid food to the baby
  • Stopping breastfeeding abruptly

In the above situations, milk continues to form in the breasts, but doesn’t get consumed by the baby. Hence, it exerts pressure from within, due to a demand and supply gap.

How to get manage engorged breasts?

Breast engorgement management is easy with the following tips.

  • One of the best ways to avoid engorged breasts is by breastfeeding frequently or whenever your baby demands milk. However, if your baby is already feeding often and gaining appropriate weight, then you might have to adopt other measures to relieve your breasts.
  • You can also express a small quantity of breast milk before breastfeeding your baby. You can do this through manual expression or use a breast pump.
  • Another home remedy is to soak a piece of cloth in warm water and place it on your breasts. This might help in expressing milk easily. Or, you can take a warm shower prior to breastfeeding.
  • In case you experience excessive discomfort or pain or heaviness in your breasts, you can relieve your discomfort and reduce the swelling by placing an ice pack, applying ice gel, or a pack of frozen vegetables on your breasts. You can do this in between breastfeeding sessions. This has a dual effect; the cold compress helps to decrease the swelling and pain, while the act of breastfeeding helps reduce the quantity of milk in the breasts.
  • Another strategy to manage the discomfort due to breast engorgement is to use different positions for feeding and to change feeding positions frequently. Initially, you can try breastfeeding your child in a sitting position. Then, you can lie down and feed your child, and eventually, you can use the football hold position. You can always take a short break in between feeding sessions or feeding positions, and utilise this time to express milk, especially if you find your baby choking.
  • In case the flow of milk is not continuous and smooth, you can massage the breast to ensure a smooth flow and relieve soreness. Sometimes, because of soreness and swelling, it might be uncomfortable for the baby to latch on to the breast. However, you should refrain from taking pain-relief medications without consulting your doctor.

Why does breast engorgement happen when you introduce complementary foods in your child’s diet?

You must remember to introduce complementary foods in your baby’s diet gradually and not suddenly. You can space it out across several weeks or months or even longer. This will not only be beneficial for your child, but also for you.

You need to introduce complementary foods that will work as substitutes for breast milk and ensure your child is well-fed. These can take the form of small quantities of water or other milk, provided using a cup or a feeding bottle. However, this should be a slow process, and your child should be able to adapt to it without much fuss. 

A sudden or abrupt stop of breastfeeding can lead to painful breast engorgement. Even when you offer complementary foods to your infant, your breasts will continue to produce milk. And if there is no outflow, they might become hard, swollen, and even lumpy. Also, hard swollen breasts engorged with milk can block milk ducts can lead to the development of an infection or an abscess. Look out for any fever which is accompanied by chills and temporary muscle weakness. In such cases, make sure you are speaking to your gynaecologist immediately.

How should you care for your breasts when you start introducing complementary foods?

Introducing complementary foods from the age of 6 months is necessary to provide your child with a more wholesome and nutrient-dense diet. However, in the process, you should remember to take care of your breasts, to avoid painful engorgement. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Express a little milk from the breasts to feel more comfortable
  • Use a brassiere that is gentle and soft and that supports the breasts comfortably
  • Use cold-compression on your breasts to relieve any pain, swelling or hardness
  • Use breast pads within the brassiere to soak up breast milk that might leak from the breasts
  • Consult your doctor before you resort to pain-relief medications or herbal remedies

In a nutshell, if you are new to breastfeeding, know that breast engorgement is a very common problem, especially when you start feeding your baby solids. So, keep the above tips in mind, avoid stopping breastfeeding suddenly, and seek medical help if the issue is severe.