Breastfeeding & Pumping

What is Engorgement and How Can I Relieve It?

What is Engorgement and How Can I Relieve It?

Are you in the early days of breastfeeding and experiencing symptoms of engorgement? Are you wondering what exactly is happening and what steps you can take to relieve it?

The good news is that although it isn’t fun to experience breast engorgement, it is the body’s natural way of initiating your milk supply that has been building up throughout your pregnancy after your baby is born.

Let’s look at how you can work with your body to relieve some of the symptoms and set you and your baby up for success on your breastfeeding journey.

What is Engorgement?

What exactly is engorgement? Engorgement is often problematic in the first week when your body is changing from producing colostrum to establishing its long-term milk supply. Your body begins to ramp up the blood flow to your breasts to increase milk flow. The downside to this extra blood in the breast tissue is that it can be very uncomfortable, creating inflammation of the breast, making them hard, swollen and painful for the mom.

Your first experience with engorgement will be in the first few weeks, but it can occur at any time that you are producing milk and have full breasts. Some other common engorgement periods can be if you have skipped a pumping or nursing session, your baby begins sleeping more through the night, or is beginning to eat more solid foods and needs less milk. It can also occur when you are beginning to wean your baby from breast milk.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Engorgement

Now that we know what engorgement is, what are some of the most common signs and symptoms of breast engorgement?

  • Tender Breasts
  • Breast Pain
  • Sore Nipples
  • Trouble Latching
  • Hard Breasts
  • Swollen Breasts
  • Lumps

It’s important to understand that engorgement, while painful, is a part of the journey. You want to watch your symptoms and be able to differentiate between typical painful breasts and something more serious such as clogged milk ducts or mastitis. If you feel like your breast pain is not in the normal range, you can always reach out to a Certified IBCLC for resources and support.

You can also begin finding mom friends and other support networks that have knowledge and experience in breastfeeding and issues with engorgement. Learning from others’ experiences and feeling seen and understood can make this journey seem more attainable, even in these more difficult phases.

How Can I Relieve Engorgement Symptoms?

So engorgement is inevitable, but you still want to provide your baby with that liquid gold. What can you do to relieve engorgement symptoms?

  • Take a warm bath or shower before a pumping/nursing session
  • Use ice packs or cold gel packs to relieve inflammation between sessions
  • Use hand expression to get a small amount of milk out between sessions to relieve some of the pressure
  • Try warm compresses right before a pumping/nursing session to help the breasts be softer for the baby to try latching on to
  • When nursing or pumping, try a gentle breast massage to relieve pressure and lumps and encourage your body to express milk
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain
  • Reverse Pressure Softening helps to move the fluid away from the nipple area, relieving some of the direct pressure you might be feeling 

A few of our favorite tools for relieving engorgement symptoms include this compress, lactation massager, and balm. When you are using the massager, remember that you are not trying to work out issues with a muscle, so you want to use it very lightly on the breasts. It’s a good idea to stock up on these products before your baby arrives so that they will be ready when you need them in those early weeks!

Will I Have Engorgement Even If I Don't Breastfeed?

All new mothers will experience engorgement whether they are breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or choosing to only use formula. Your body is made for milk production after you have a baby.

The best way to relieve engorgement symptoms if you won’t be breastfeeding your baby includes taking over-the-counter pain medicines, warm showers, and finding a supportive bra to help you through the process. You can also use cabbage leaves to help relieve engorgement, but they should only be used if you don’t plan on breastfeeding.

When Do I Contact My Doctor?

If you are beginning to experience flu-like symptoms, are having a hard time with pain, or have severe engorgement, don’t just try to suffer through it because you think it’s a normal part of the breastfeeding journey. A low-grade fever could be a sign of breast infection, or you could also have a blocked duct, breast abscess, or other medical condition on top of what is a natural part of breastfeeding.

Be sure and reach out to a lactation consultant, postpartum doula, your health care provider, or other breastfeeding specialists with any of your concerns or issues. They will have a host of resources and other medical advice to help you and your baby develop a plan that is best for you!

Here at The Dairy Fairy, we understand that the breastfeeding process can be extremely rewarding and difficult all at the same time. We hope you found this information useful and look forward to hearing from you and your own experiences during your breastfeeding journey!

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