Postpartum breast engorgement is the swelling of the breasts that makes them become painful and tender. It is caused by an increase in blood flow and milk supply in the breasts in the first few days after childbirth.
It is the body’s natural response to providing enough milk for the baby now that they have been born. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, breast engorgement will still take place. If you do not express the milk or breastfeed your baby’s milk supply will eventually stop.
Breast engorgement is a tough balancing act, on one side you have the natural need to feed your baby every time they call out for you. On the other hand, you have to also be cautious that the pain that intensifies with every feed does not end up hurting you.
There are some cases where breast engorgement can become so extreme that the natural nursing of the baby has to be suspended or even stopped permanently.
Below we look at some of the proven ways to help you deal with breast engorgement the right way. read on!
The increased blood flow to the breasts to help your breasts make more milk is the number one of the most common breast engorgement causes. As natural as that may be, the process can be uncomfortable and painful at the same time. However, certain conditions exacerbate the condition.
Missing a Feeding Session
Once the baby is born, the body reacts by producing milk constantly so that they can feed. If you miss feeding time, the milk will still be produced, and within hours, if the baby does not feed, the breast will begin to swell, and it will be painful.
Skipping a Pumping Session
Since babies cannot feed continuously, you can turn to breast pumping to help ease the burden and the discomfort on you. The milk can be stored for later use. However, if you skip even a single pumping session, the breast will become engorged since milk production does not stop.
Introducing Baby Formula
When you introduce baby formula into the feeding routine, you will be disrupting the feeding schedule. The baby will be too full for breastfeeding, and you are the one who will have to deal with engorged breasts. Try as much as you can to hold off baby formulas and stick to breast milk for as long as possible.
Weaning Too Quickly
In the same line with introducing baby formula early, weaning your baby too soon can also make breast engorgement worse. The recommended time for exclusive breastfeeding is six months. Weaning your baby completely before that time is not good for either you or the baby.
Difficulty in Latching
Sometimes it takes some babies too long to figure out how to latch onto the breast for feeding. When this happens, you will be forced to hold the breast for them, but this is not as effective as when they latch onto it themselves. Therefore, milk consumption would be lower than the supply, leading to breast engorgement.
An Ill Baby
A sick baby won’t feed properly. They are usually too weak to even latch, and their appetite is usually affected during such periods. When they are too sick to feed, the resulting effect would be engorged breasts since milk production will still be in high gear.
Overabundance of Milk
Some others have been blessed with a very ample supply of milk. As much as this is a good thing, sometimes it can lead to problems. When the supply outstrips the baby’s demands, then your breasts will become engorged as more milk flows into them. Expressing the milk would be the only logical way out of this.
Breast engorgement after breastfeeding is common and has a host of symptoms that vary from mother to mother. However, most that have experienced the condition have been found to exhibit at least one of the following symptoms.
- The breasts become stiff and tight due to the pressure exerted by the milk constantly flowing without an outlet.
- Flattened nipples with the dark area around the nipple, called the areola, becoming very firm. This will make it harder for the baby to latch on.
- The mother may experience fevers of around 100.4°F.
- You will also experience some tenderness in your armpits due to your lymph nodes becoming swollen.
Breast engorgement can lead to a host of complications if it is not attended to fast enough. Some of the notable ones include:
Low Milk Production
The engorgement is caused by an oversupply of milk in the first place; however, when your baby is unable to latch and relieve some of that swelling, the stagnant milk will affect the stimulation of mammary glands responsible for the production of milk. Once they stop producing any more milk, then you will have no milk to feed your baby with.
Poor Weight Gain for Your Baby
The inability of the baby to properly latch and feed will lead to a very uneven weight gain. The first three months are the most vital for your baby as they are supposed to bulk up as much as they can in anticipation of the growth spurt that usually follows afterward. If they do not adequately gain weight, then that would put their health at risk.
It Can Choke the Baby
The build-up of milk creates excessive pressure that forces the milk out in forceful gushes when the baby tries to suckle. With their gag reflexes still undeveloped, this can lead to severe choking, while at the same time, the baby may end up swallowing excessive amounts of air, which leads to bloating.
On the part of the mother, the stress on the breast, and the tremendous pressure exerted on them can open doors to other serious complications. For a start, the nipple may crack, exposing them to infections.
Milk ducts can also get blocked, and this will only add to the severity of the pain already present. The worst possible situation would be mastitis, which will require immediate medical attention.
A Poor Latch
For the baby to latch onto the breast, it has to be soft and supple, something that can be squeezed easily. With the engorgement of the breast, however, the nipple area becomes hard and bigger, making it hard for a baby to latch and suckle the milk.
When you combine all the aforementioned complications, you will be left with no other choice but to wean your baby earlier than the recommended time. There are several alternatives you can try to substitute breast milk.
There are tried and tested remedies that you can pursue to deal with it. Breast engorgement management is not a complicated process. Some involve medication, and others are simply things you can do at home to ease and reverse the effects of the condition. Some of them include:
- Ensure that you breastfeed your baby as regularly as you can. The moment you realize that your milk production is above normal, then find a way to feed your baby as much as you can. It may be too much for them at first, but with time they will adjust and get used to it.
- Express your milk if the pressure becomes too much. Sometimes the baby may be too full to continue feeding; expressing the milk would be your way out. There are special breast pumps designed for this and specialized storage containers that you can store in the fridge for later use. Breast milk has a shelf life of 4 days in the refrigerator.
- After each feeding session, place a cold compress or cabbage leaves on your breasts. This will help in relieving the pain for a while as well as reduce the swelling to manageable levels. You can also combine this with gentle breast massages during feeding or milk expression to ease the tightness.
- When breastfeeding, empty one breast first before moving on to the next one. A typical breastfeeding session takes about 20 minutes. It would help if you also changed breast positions, holding and gently squeezing them in a certain way to help drain out all the parts sufficiently.
- Make it a habit to always take a warm shower before breastfeeding the baby. Another alternative to that would be applying a warm compress on the breasts. The warmth stimulates the breasts to trigger a let-down reflex that gets the milk flowing if things are a little clogged. It also eases the pressure making the breast much softer for the baby to grab.
- Avoid baby formula if you can. If your milk supply is ample for the baby, then make it exclusive. Administering baby formula between breastfeeding sessions will only take the baby to be too full to suckle milk, which in turn, with the excess milk produced, causes breast engorgement.
- Always be vigilant all the time. Breast engorgement management only works best when you are on the lookout for any signs of breast complications, and never ignore anything. Whether it is some little pain or blebs or a slight nipple infection, everything should be approached with all the seriousness it deserves.
- You also need to get plenty of rest when you can. Once the baby has been fed, and out to sleep, you should also use that chance to catch some sleep to help your body repair itself. Taking care of a baby takes a lot of mental and physical energy, and you will never notice it until it is too late. Give your body the chance to be healthy enough to deal with minor issues.
- Get in touch with your doctor if things get too serious, especially pain. It may be that your condition has worsened into mastitis if there is no change after trying all home remedies. You will probably be put on some mild painkillers like Tylenol or Motrin. However, caution should be exercised when it comes to medication. Do not overindulge as they will be ingested by the baby too.
- If it reaches a point where weaning is the only recourse open for you, then do it gradually instead of enforcing the change abruptly. Give your baby the chance to acclimatize themselves to the new food. Within a short time, your breast will stop producing milk, and the engagement will be a thing of the past within weeks.
In the event that weaning your baby turns out to be the only option for you against postpartum breast engorgement, then the following are some breast milk alternatives that you can start your baby on.
Organic Baby Formula
Baby formulas have been around for ages, and they have gotten much better with time. The trust that many mothers have in some brands is excellent. Baby formula is the closest thing to breast milk and should be your first consideration.
Coconut milk is high on a fatty acid called Lauric acid, which is a vital component that is also present in breast milk. It is what makes milk to be easily digestible by a baby’s stomach. It also strengthens the immune system as well as offering protection against viruses and bacteria.
The fact that it is a plant extract makes it even safer for lactose intolerant babies.
Goat milk is rich in fat and has the one advantage of being extremely delicious compared to most of the other milk products from other domesticated animals.
However, caution has to be exercised when using goat milk as it lacks folic acid and vitamin B12. It, therefore, has to be combined with additives like nutritional yeast for folic acid.
Wrapping it Up
Breast engorgement is a common occurrence among breastfeeding mothers, and it should not be a cause for great alarm. As clearly outlined above, you have the luxury of dealing with it from home without the need to see a doctor unless it morphs into mastitis, another rare occurrence.
One thing that you should be careful with is taking pain relievers, they may help but filling up your body with drugs may not be ideal for the baby. Confine yourself to natural remedies as much as you can.