It is quite typical for a breast feeding mother’s breasts to become extremely full and engorged when the “milk comes in”–when the woman’s breasts begin producing the milk instead of the colostrum of the early day or two. This generally occurs within 2-5 days after the baby’s birth. Engorgement can feel extremely uncomfortable and may even be somewhat painful and the breasts may feel heavy and tender. Engorgement can also happen if the mother goes to long without feeding the baby, or there is sudden or partial weaning. Here are some suggestions for coping with engorged breasts for the breast feeding mother…
In addition to the heaviness, tenderness and large, swollen breasts mentioned earlier, engorgement may also be accompanied by a redness or warmth in the breasts, and some women have a fever that accompanies the other symptoms. The breasts generally feel large and hard.
The best treatment for engorgement is to nurse the baby as much as possible. With very hard, swollen breasts it may be difficult for the infant to get latched on to the nipple properly so the mother may need to express some milk prior to putting the baby to the breast in order to soften the breast so the baby can latch on. The mother should put the baby to the breast often and let him feed as long as he wants. In the early days, this will likely be every two to three hours. Experienced nursing mothers suggest even waking a very sleepy baby and putting her to the breast ever two to three hours to help alleviate the engorgement and establish a steady milk supply.
For very hard, engorged breasts, a moist, warm cloth or compress may be helpful–especially just before feeding the baby. It can also help to gently massage the breast, moving down toward the nipple. Cool, moist compresses in between feedings can also help to alleviate some of the tenderness and pain associated with engorgement.
With engorged breasts, it is important that the mother wear a comfortable, well-fitting bra–it needs to be sturdy enough to support the large, swollen breasts, but not too tight or constricting. Soft, breathable cotton makes the best choice for a bra during this period.
With frequent feedings, the engorgement should diminish in a couple days. If it continues, or is incredibly or increasingly painful or uncomfortable or the mother has a hard time getting the baby to take the breast because it is too full–she should contact her doctor, medical professional, midwife, nurse or lactation consultant for help in alleviating the discomfort. It is best to deal with engorgement sooner than later in order to prevent an infection or mastitis forming in the breast.