Breast engorgement is a condition whereby a woman develops hard, swollen, and painful breasts when too much breast milk accumulates in the milk ducts. It’s caused by an increase in blood flow and milk supply in the breasts and it occurs in the first days after childbirth.
Causes of breast engorgement
- Breast engorgement is caused by increased blood flowing to the breast after delivery.
- The increased blood flow causes pain and discomforts the woman.
- Engorgement can occur within 2-6 days of delivery and also occur subsequently later on during breastfeeding.
- Breast engorgement occurs when a baby is not feeding and attaching well and the breasts aren’t drained well during a feed.
- It occurs when a woman is making more milk than the baby needs.
- When a baby misses a feed or is feeding infrequently.
- Engorgement occurs also in women who don’t want to breastfeed after childbirth.
- Breast Engorgement can also occur when a child is just newly introduced to weaning.
Symptoms of breast engorgement
- Swollen, tender breast: Engorged breast are swollen, hard, shiny, and slightly lumpy to touch
- Flattened nipples: The areola of the breast is very firm and as a result of that it’s different for the baby to latch on
- Slightly swollen and tender lymph nodes in the armpit.
- Bruise feels on the breast
- Slight fever of around 38OC
How long does engorgement last?
A woman with engorgement feels relieved immediately her breasts are emptied of the milk. She feels more comfortable immediately after breastfeeding has taking place and swelling subsides within a couple of days.
How to relieve engorged breast
- Putting a baby to the breast often relieves engorgement.
- Waking baby to feed.
- Have a warm shower before breastfeeding to help with milk flow.
- Applying warm, moist compress.
- Massaging of breast gently in a downward motion from the chest wall towards the nipple while the baby is feeding.
- Use a cold compress like a cool gel pack from the fridge to relieve inflammation.
- Use of pain killers to relieve pain.
- Manual expression of milk with the hand or a milk pump if the breast feels full even after breastfeeding.
- Remove your bra before breastfeeding.
Complications of Engorged Breasts
Complications on the baby
It slows the production of more breast milk which leads to low milk supply and as a result that causes poor weight gain and erodes breastfeeding confidence in the child.
Complications on the Parent
- It causes frustration in the parents.
- It causes early weaning.
- It leads to serious conditions such as sore nipple, mastitis, blisters on nipple opening, plugged milk ducts, etc.
Prevention of Breast Engorgement
Breast Engorgement can’t be prevented in the first days after childbirth until the body knows how to regulate milk production the woman is likely to overproduce. But it can be prevented by:
- Feed baby regularly and pump when baby isn’t hungry or when the baby is away.
- Use ice packs to decrease the supply.
- Remove a small amount of breast milk.
- Wean slowly.
- Establish a proper latch. Proper latching ensures the efficient release of milk.
- Empty each breast properly before switching to the other.
- If a baby hasn’t completely relived fullness express milk from the breast.
When to see a doctor
If there is continuing painful swelling of breast Engorgement see a lactation consultant for support and let your doctor know if Engorgement doesn’t subside in three to four days or if you are developing a fever. Fever is a sign of breast infection called mastitis. Talk to your doctor before using over-the-counter medication. In cases of pain see a doctor to prescribe medication that will help to ease pain and inflammation.