The best part of motherhood, breastfeeding comes with some challenges. The most common challenge is the breast engorgement. There may be many reasons for engorged breasts but it will interfere with breastfeeding. So know the causes and symptoms and underlying problems with breastfeeding.
What is Breast Engorgement?
Breast engorgement is the condition when the breasts become swollen, painful and hard due to excess milk, or the presence of blood and lymphatic fluids. This is a very common problem in breastfeeding mothers. New mothers after 3- 5 days of the delivery experience is mostly.
Causes of Breast Engorgement:
Postpartum is what naturally causes engorged breasts. But there can be some underlying reasons for breast engorgement. Some of them are:
- Coming-in of Milk:
This is a common cause of engorged breasts. After the baby feeds on the colostrum – the first milk, breasts usually undergo full milk production mode. Large amount of milk is produced by the milk ducts at once resulting in the increased size of breast rapidly and engorgement.
- Insufficient feeding:
The other main reason for breast engorgement is insufficient feeding. Doctors suggest the mothers to start breast feeding as soon as the baby is born. In some cases, the mothers are unable to feed the infants for some time after the delivery. In this time, the milk is produced normally and the breasts are overfilled.
- Irregular feeding schedule:
Feeding the new born should be done on a regular schedule. This will regulate the baby to feel hungry at the said timing and also the rate at which breast milk is produced. When the schedule is disturbed like skipping breastfeeding or changing the feeding pattern may result in surplus milk in the breasts resulting in engorged breasts.
- Poor Latch:
If the baby is unable to latch to the nipple properly, they will not feed properly and unable to empty your breast. This will cause breast engorgement.
Symptoms of Breast Engorgement:
Be cautious of the following symptoms to make sure you have engorged breasts.
- Feeling heaviness in breasts
- Hard and stiff breast tissue
- Stretching of skin
- Increased breast temperature
- Mild swelling in the underarms
When you notice any of these symptoms, it is not necessary to consult a doctor. In some cases, along with the above mentioned symptoms, women may experience a low-grade fever usually less than 100°F.
But when you have the following symptoms with breast engorgement, consult a doctor immediately. Symptoms pointing towards infection include:
- Fever above 100°F.
- Sharp pain.
- Red or maroon tinge in the breasts and nipples.
- Swollen lymph nodes in various body parts.
- Painfully inflamed lymph node in the underarm.
- A hard lump on the breast.
- Pus or foul-smelling fluid discharge from the nipple.
- More than 48 hours of breast engorgement.
How is Breast Engorgement Diagnosed and Treated?
By inspecting the breasts, the doctor can tell if it is breast engorgement or mastitis. However, there is no specific treatment for breast engorgement. You can take over the counter pain medication, if the discomfort is too much. Medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen does not cause any harm to the baby when you take them while breastfeeding. You can manage this condition with some simple home remedies.
Home Remedies for breast engorgement:
Here are the simple home remedies you can follow to relieve engorged breasts.
Gently massage your breasts from chest towards the nipple using small strokes. If it is not painful, you can massage the breast with circular strokes. Massage improves the flow of accumulated milk to flow through the nipple better.
- Express Milk:
Best way to deal with engorged breasts is expressing milk 8-10 times a day using a pump. Collect the expressed milk in sterilized bottles and store them in a refrigerator and use it later.
- Increased feeds:
Newborns feed about 8-12 times a day. If for some reason, your infant is feeding less number of times, try to increase the feeds gradually.
- Ice or hot packs:
Place the ice pack on your breast for about 15-20 minutes to relieve the pain of engorgement. You can soak a clean towel in hot water and place it on your breast to improve the flow of milk thereby reducing the hardness of the breasts.
- Cabbage leaves:
In several cases, mothers found comfort in placing a chilled cabbage leaf inside the bra. Clean the cabbage leaf and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Place the chilled cabbage leaf in the bra cup of the affected breast and leave it until the leaf is wilted or turned warm. Even though there is no evidence that proves cabbage leaf helps in relieving breast engorgement, experts believe that there is no harm in trying a harmless home remedy.
Complications of Breast Engorgement:
There are some possible complications associated with breast engorgement. They are:
- Infective Mastitis: Infective mastitis is a painful inflammatory condition caused by bacteria invading the accumulated milk. This causes a burning sensation and blood discharge from the nipple.
- Breast cancer: Often hard lumps in the breasts are an early sign of breast cancer.
Tips to prevent Engorged Breasts:
Here are the simple tips you need to follow to prevent your breasts from engorging.
- Regular Breast feeding schedule:
Newborn infants generally need to feed 8-12 times a day for the first month after the birth. So the average gap between the feeding should be 2-3 hours. Maintain a regular feeding schedule so that your baby is feeding every 3 hours thereby regulating the production of breast milk.
- Feed from one breast at a time:
Empty one breast and then start feeding from other breast, so that you can know when your breast is drained.
- Ensure good latch:
Baby gets enough milk to drain your breast when the latch is good. Make sure the baby’s mouth go all around the areola.
- Avoid ill fitting clothes.
- Breastfeed until the baby is full.
- Pump whenever needed.
- Gradually wean the baby.
Make sure to follow the above mentioned tips and avoid breast engorgement. Take best measure to ensure that the feeding schedule is maintained according to your baby’s hunger and thereby regulating your breast milk production.