Women endure many changes in their bodies when they have babies. One of these issues are engorged breasts; which basically means that the breasts are overfull of milk, causing great discomfort and pain. Engorged breasts are not uncommon among women who just had a baby, but it doesn’t mean they have to live with it without any remedy. Check out what causes engorged breasts and how to relieve them.
What Causes Engorged Breasts
In a general manner, engorged breasts happen when a woman’s breasts make a larger amount of milk than the baby is consuming. The breasts will appear firm and swollen, with multiple veins or milk ducts being completely see-through and creating a big discomfort for the mom and the baby who can’t breastfeed correctly. There are a few main reasons why engorged breasts can occur:
When the Baby Stops Breast Feeding and There’s Too Much Milk Inside the Breast
When you stop breast feeding your baby abruptly (without reducing the amount of milk given to your baby gradually), it’s common to find that your breasts will engorge in a matter of days. The body is used to filling the breasts with milk in order to feed the baby and, if you stop pumping the breast milk out, it’ll take a few days for the body to realize it doesn’t need to make more milk anymore. On other occasions, you might still be feeding your baby regularly but your body just keeps producing more than the baby needs. This can also result in engorged and sore breasts.
Not Pumping out Milk or Breast Feeding for a Long Period of Time
Engorged breasts can take just a few hours to fill up and become a discomfort for a woman. If you breastfed your baby a few hours ago and they still take breast milk every hour or less, it’s likely that your breasts will start to ache and swell if you miss a feeding.
Eating Greasy Food
Food plays a major role in the way breastmilk reacts inside a woman’s body. Eating food high in grease, cholesterol, alcohol or sodium, can block the breast milk conducts in the breasts and easily cause engorged breasts.
When the milk is not getting out of your breasts constantly enough, it can end up causing mastitis; an infection caused by pus accumulation in the clogged milk ducts that ultimately inflames the breasts.
Not Drinking Enough Water
Since milk uses the nutrients in the mother’s body, it’s important that you keep yourself hydrated. Not drinking enough water can cause thick milk, which can end up clogging the conducts and produce breast engorgement.
Breast Feeding in the Wrong Position
When you place your baby in the wrong position, it might be possible that they’re grasping only a part of your nipple or you might be pressing unevenly at your breasts, blocking the passage of milk. This can swell up your breasts and make them clog.
Related: Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms
How to Tell you Have Engorged Breasts
Even though engorged breasts are pretty common among breast feeding women, sometimes this condition can worsen to the point where you might need a doctor. Here are some signs that could tell you if you’re dealing with engorged breasts in a mild or a very severe case.
Very Sensitive and Sore Breasts
It’s not normal to feel very sensitive breasts when you just had your baby and you’re breast feeding. Very sensitive breasts and even pain are a sign of possible breast engorgement.
Excessive Breast Swelling
The first sign of breast engorgement is swelling. This might be noticeable when you put on your regular bras and notice they don’t fit or you feel extreme pressure on the skin and breast mass.
Lumps in the Breasts or Armpits
In addition to the discomfort and pain, there can appear swollen lymphs in the armpits. This might not be so noticeable until you inspect your breasts and feel them with your fingers.
The Skin Around the Breast is Tight and the Nipples Become Flat
Tightness is another big sign of breast engorgement, you might feel the skin around the nipple tight, to the point where the nipple hardens and gets completely flat.
Sore, Shiny and Cracked Nipples
If you suspect you’re dealing with breast engorgement, check out and closely inspect your nipples. If they look shiny, red and you feel they are sore and starting to crack, you definitely have breast engorgement. In severe cases your nipples might even bleed.
Severe Pain and High Temperature in the Breasts, Even Causing Fever in the Woman
When breast engorgement reaches a critical point, a woman might feel a sudden rise in her temperature, particularly in the breast area. It might come to a point where she experiences fever as a sign of a possible infection.
How to Avoid Them in the Future
Now that you know how to identify engorged breasts it’s important that you also learn how you can avoid them and have a healthy milk flow. It all comes down to the fact that you must get the milk moving out of your breasts; and prevent them from getting overfilled.
Soften the Breasts Before Feeding Your Baby
The best way to prepare your breasts for a feeding is to try and soften the tissue. A few minutes before you breastfeed or pump your breast milk, apply a warm compress to help the milk clots dilute and come out easier. You can also use both of your hands to give your breasts a gentle massage and let some excess milk out.
Breast Feed More Often and Empty the Breasts
Whenever you start noticing signs that indicate your baby’s hungry, get to breast feeding or pump milk in order to feed them. Keep in mind that, during your baby’s first weeks of life, they’ll need milk every 1 to 3 hours all day long. Leaving some, or a lot of milk in the breast can cause it to overfill before the next feeding.
Make sure to feed your baby until your breast is completely empty. Some signs of this are slowing in your baby’s sucking or you can no longer hear your baby swallowing. If the baby’s full and you still have milk in your breasts you can pump the excess.
Take Some Ibuprofen and Lecithin
If the pain and the swelling of your breasts become too much to handle, you can always take some off-the-counter medication. Taking ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin, is super safe for a breast feeding woman, and it can help relieve some pain and discomfort. However, it’s always a good idea to double check with your doctor to see if ibuprofen is the best option for you. If you’re more into natural remedies, you can start taking Lecithin, a food supplement that helps prevent blocked milk ducts.
Wear an Appropriate Bra
A very important tip is finding the perfect bra. Remember that, at this moment, you need a nursing bra that provides the proper support and coverage so that your breasts are not under pressure but loose enough so they sag a little from the weight. Choose the right size for your nursing bra and it’ll help you have a healthy flow of milk.
Make Sure the Baby Latches on Correctly to the Breast
Another main reason why you might be suffering from engorged breasts constantly is because the baby is not latching on correctly to the nipple. This may be due to the nipple being too flat and hard, so massaging the breast before feeding can help your baby latch on correctly and promote a healthy milk flow.
If you want to relieve the pain and the swelling of your breasts in order to slowly treat engorged breasts, apply cold compress or ice packs for short periods of time.
Drink More Water
Drinking bigger amounts of water not only will keep you keep more hydrated and ready to breast feed, it will also help dilute your milk and make it flow easier through your tubes, hence preventing engorged breasts.
Avoid Certain Foods
One of the easiest things you can do to prevent breast engorgement is to watch what you eat. Avoid fried food and greasy meals, coffee, alcohol, cheese and seafood high in sodium and minerals.
Feeding your baby is one of the most wonderful bonds you can create as a mother, and with these easy tips you’ll treat and prevent a very uncomfortable situation. Follow these steps and make your breastfeeding a positive experience for you and your child.