You think you are prepared for motherhood, and the breastfeeding journey that will be both beautiful and easy for you. You have talked to friends and read books, maybe you have even sat in on a La Leche meeting already!
Then you give birth, and your world is rocked. This tiny human being that was just inside of you is now so fragile and amazing. Everything changes... your mindset, your heart, and you. It's as if the entire world shifts. Those first 48 hours are just miraculous. The 'Mother's High' that carries you through the days sleepless but happy is still going strong. Your body begins to heal and everything just feels dreamy. And then you wake up feeling as though someone attached cement blocks to your chest where your breasts had once been.
I am not kidding.
You want to cry. You want to wake your tiny baby up from peaceful slumber to nurse. You want to pump. You want to curl in a ball and pretend the pain will go away.
Yes, this is engorgement. Welcome to motherhood. Unless your body cannot produce milk, you will experience this after birth. But for some reason, it is totally down played... maybe even forgotten about by most mothers just weeks afterward. You see, engorgement does not last forever. Once your body and baby's body regulate to how much milk is needed throughout the day, your supply will meet baby's demand. But there are a few things you can do during this engorgement period to help ease your discomfort and help your body regulate.
Engorgement occurs 2-5 days after giving birth and is described as a heaviness, tightness, fullness, and warmth within the breast. For most women, it only lasts a day or so, but for some it can last a bit longer. If you are an over-producer, it can be hard to get baby to latch well, and you will need to remove some milk before nursing.
You may experience:
- Engorgement in the areola and/or body of the breast
- Engorgement occurs in one or both breasts
- Engorgement builds to a peak and then decrease, stay at the same level for a period of time (anywhere from minimal to intense), or peak several times
According to KellyMom.com, a mother can reduce engorgement by:
- Nurse early and often -- at least 10 times per 24 hours. Don't skip feedings (even at night).
- Nurse on baby's cues ('on demand'). If baby is very sleepy: wake baby to nurse every 2-3 hours, allowing one longer stretch of 4-5 hours at night.
- Allow baby to finish the first breast before offering the other side. Switch sides when baby pulls off or falls asleep. Don't limit baby's time at the breast.
- Ensure correct latch and positioning so that baby is nursing well and sufficiently softening the breasts.
- If baby is not nursing well, express your milk regularly and frequently to maintain milk supply and minimize engorgement.
From my experience as a mom to five, I highly recommend the following:
Breastfeed on Demand NOT on a Schedule: You want your body to make what your baby needs to grow and develop properly.
Wake Baby to Nurse Often: Newborns sleep A LOT. The more you nurse, the faster engorgement ends -- wake that baby up!
Frozen Vegetables/Cold Compresses: This can reduce inflammation.
Warm Showers (while massaging and hand expressing): The warm water will encourage milk to leak out.
Pump, But NOT a lot, and NOT often: You do not want to pump too much because your body will think that it needs to make that much milk again. You only want to pump for a few minutes, and just enough to alleviate the swelling and pain.
Make sure you avoid:
- Excess stimulation (for example, don't direct a shower spray directly on the breasts).
- Application of heat to the breasts between feedings. This can increase swelling and inflammation. If you must use heat to help with milk flow, limit to a few minutes only.
- Restricting fluids. This does not reduce engorgement. Drink to thirst.
If you do not relieve your breasts of the milk often enough, you are at risk for getting a clogged milk duct and mastitis. These are not pleasant experiences, so make sure you work through your engorgement and help the body work with your baby!