A few days after giving birth your milk will “come in”. For most women, this involves a feeling of fullness, heaviness, and possibly some tenderness and warmth. However, sometimes this normal fullness can develop into engorgement – especially if baby is not nursing frequently and effectively.
When breasts are engorged, they become hard and the skin gets taut. They are extremely tender. The nipple may flatten out, making it even harder for baby to nurse. You may also feel achy and run a low-grade fever.
Although painful, full breasts mean that you are producing enough milk for your baby! Luckily, there are many things you can do to relieve engorgement.
- Breastfeed often to relieve pressure. Try not to go more than three hours without a feeding, even if you have to wake baby up.
- If your breasts are very painful, it will help to soften up the nipple before you try to breastfeed. You can do this by expressing a little breast milk and gently rubbing it into the nipple and areola. You may also want to use heat to help encourage let-down before breastfeeding. A warm bath or shower can help, or a heating pad or moist wet towels. Massaging the breast can also help.
- If your breasts are still swollen after baby has had her fill, you may want to express the extra milk to relieve the pressure. Be gentle. If you are using a pump, be sure it is a high quality one.
- Applying cold packs to breasts can help. You can use cold packs you buy at the store, a bag of crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables. Don’t use heat unless you are softening the nipple and areola just before feeding.
- Try lying on your back with your breasts elevated between feedings. It may also help to apply cabbage leaves to your breasts. Just strip the larger veins after washing and put them on your breasts.
- Make sure you are wearing a comfortable, supportive nursing bra.
Engorged breasts, though painful, generally only last a few days. Soon your breasts will soften and you will be able to enjoy feeding you little one, pain-free.