Breast Engorgement: What It Is, What the Causes Are, How to Treat It
If you're a new mother, then you may have heard about breast engorgement. This is a condition that can occur when the breast becomes overly full of milk. Engorgement is seen both in mothers who are breastfeeding and mothers who are not.
It's important to know how to treat breast engorgement, as painful breasts can be quite uncomfortable. In this blog post, we will discuss what breast engorgement is, what it's causes are, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
What is breast engorgement?
Breast engorgement is when the breast becomes too full of milk. It is caused by the breast suddenly filling up with milk, leading to swelling and tightness.
What are the signs of breast engorgement? The breast may feel tender and painful because there is an increase in blood flow and milk production. You might also find that your breasts are warm, lumpy, shiny, and hard.
Swelling around the armpit area is also common and your veins might seem more prominent than before. Your nipples might also seem flattened and you may even have a low-grade fever, often known as a "milk fever."
If you have other symptoms, such as high fever, burning pain in the breast, bloody nipple discharge, weakness, and chills, then it's possible that you have mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue caused by blocked milk ducts or bacteria. Go to you doctor if this is the case. It's easily treatable and nothing to worry about in most cases.
Breast engorgement can be painful, but it is usually temporary. This can happen for a number of reasons.
What are the causes of breast engorgement?
What causes breast engorgement? Let's take a look.
You have just given birth
It is normal for breasts to be engorged right after giving birth, usually four days or so postpartum. This is because your body is adjusting to the new baby and learning how much milk to produce.
For new mothers, engorged breasts are normal for a week or two as they get adjusted to their baby's feeding schedule. If you're formula feeding your baby, your breasts might stay engorged for a bit longer before your body realizes that the milk is not being used and stops its production.
Your baby has difficulty latching
If your baby is having difficulty latching, this can also cause breast engorgement. A poor latch can cause the breast to become overfull and lead to pain and discomfort because the milk isn't being expressed.
A good latch is important in order to prevent engorgement and ensure that your baby is getting enough milk. If you're having trouble with latching, talk to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider.
Your baby isn't nursing frequently enough
The most common cause of breast engorgement is when the baby isn't nursing frequently enough. This can cause the breast to become too full of milk, as the milk is not being removed from the breast regularly.
New mothers often take time to figure out their baby's nursing needs — once you do so, your breasts will feel better and your body will be able to regulate its production of milk. Talk to your doctor if you think that your baby isn't feeding enough.
Your feeding schedule keeps changing
Your baby's feeding needs can change from day to day. Maybe your baby is going through a growth spurt and wants to nurse more frequently, or maybe he's teething and doesn't want to nurse as much. Maybe your baby has suddenly decided to nap during their usual nursing times, and now you've to change your timing accordingly.
Thus, changes in your baby's feeding schedule can cause breast engorgement because the milk isn't being drained the way it was before, causing an accumulation of milk in the breasts.
You're producing more milk than your baby can consume
Another common cause of breast engorgement is when the mother is producing more milk than the baby is able to consume. This can be due to a number of factors, such as the baby not being able to breastfeed efficiently, the mother having an overabundant milk supply, or the mother supplementing with formula.
Genetics, hormonal changes, and medication often have a role to play in how much milk a new mother produces.
You're skipping pumping sessions or overpumping
If you're pumping breast milk, make sure that you're not skipping any sessions or overpumping. This can cause the breast to become engorged with milk as well.
If you pump too little, your breasts won't be properly emptied of milk. If you pump too much, your body will think that your baby needs more milk and will produce even more milk. It's important to pump breast milk according to your baby's needs and schedule. This might be difficult if you're working on a fixed schedule, but try to be as flexible as possible.
You're weaning your baby off breast milk
If you're in the process of weaning your baby off breast milk, this can also cause breast engorgement. As you reduce the number of times you breastfeed or pump, your body will adjust its milk production accordingly.
However, this process can take a few weeks, during which you might experience breast engorgement. Try to be patient and bear with it until your body gets used to the new schedule. Instead of weaning your baby off suddenly, do it gradually.
Now that we know the causes of breast engorgement, let's take a look at how to treat it.
What are the treatments for breast engorgement?
So, how do you get rid of breast engorgement? How do you prevent breast engorgement? There are a few things you can do to relieve the pain and discomfort of breast engorgement as well as prevent it in the future.
Most of these, given below, apply to breastfeeding mothers. If you're only formula feeding your baby, engorgement will go away once the body realizes that the milk isn't needed.
Apply heat or cold
You can apply a warm compress to your breasts before nursing or pumping to help stimulate milk flow. You can also use a cold compress afterwards to soothe any pain or inflammation.
Massage your breasts
Gently massage your breasts in a circular motion to help loosen up the milk ducts and make it easier for the milk to flow. You can do this while applying a warm or cold compress. Don't apply the compresses when your baby is nursing, but you can massage your breasts during that time to make it easier for your breasts to give your little one milk.
Make sure that you're nursing or pumping often enough to keep up with your baby's needs. This will help empty your breasts and prevent them from becoming too full. Feeding your baby regularly is the best way to prevent breast engorgement.
Use a breast pump
If you're not able to breastfeed, you can use a breast pump to relieve some of the pressure in your breasts. Make sure that you're using the breast pump according to instructions so that you don't overpump or damage your breasts.
Wear a supportive bra
Wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra or a nursing cami can help reduce the pain and discomfort of breast engorgement. It will also help prevent your breast tissue from stretching out and becoming damaged.
Make sure your nursing bra is actually comfortable and made of a breathable, soft material! Otherwise, your painful breasts might feel even more uncomfortable.
Breastfeed your baby from both breasts
When you breastfeed, start with the breast that's less full. This will help empty both breasts more evenly and prevent breast engorgement. If your baby is used to feeding only from one breast, then slowly start to get them used to the other breast as well.
Try different breastfeeding positions
There are a number of different breastfeeding positions that you can try. Some mothers find that certain positions are more comfortable and help with engorgement better than others. Shifting between different positions will also make sure that different areas of your breasts are drained of milk.
Reach out to your doctor for painkillers
If the pain and discomfort of breast engorgement are too much to bear, you can reach out to your doctor for painkillers. However, make sure that you take them only as directed. Do not self-medicate to relieve your painful breasts!
These are just some of the things you can do to treat breast engorgement. If you find that your symptoms are getting worse or if you're experiencing fever, chills, or other flu-like symptoms, make sure to see a doctor.
So, how long does breast engorgement last for? In most cases, breast engorgement is temporary and will go away on its own — in a few days — as you adjust to your baby's needs.
Breastfeeding can be challenging so there's no need to let this condition affect you morale. It's good to be aware of breast engorgement and to know how to treat it, but there's no need to worry too much about it. It's a condition that most breastfeeding mothers will experience at some point. You'll be back to your old self in no time!
However, know that it's always better to reach out for professional help sooner rather than later.
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