Last Updated on March 28, 2023 by Jada Glover
The topic of breast engorgement treatment comes up often in the breastfeeding groups I follow. As a new mama, it can be very overwhelming to try to find the best advice and support for your breastfeeding journey. So I created this post to help you better understand what causes engorgement and tips for natural engorgement treatment.
Symptoms of Engorged Breasts
Engorgement occurs when your breast tissue swells as a result of the increase in milk volume that typically occurs when your milk comes in 4-6 days usually after birth. Your breasts may feel heavy, warm to the touch, and swelling typically on the outer sides and under your arms.
What Causes Engorgement?
After the birth of your baby, you may experience swelling. During this time, extra blood and fluids are flowing through your body, including your breasts. These excess fluids may be in your breasts as a result of labor medication, Pitocin, for example, or maybe your body is just retaining fluids during this time. As your milk transitions from colostrum to mature milk, you may experience heavier breasts during this time too. This is normal as your milk comes in, but it’s important to breastfeed as often as possible to encourage milk removal and continued production. Engorgement is most common in the first few weeks after the birth of your baby.
Other reasons for engorged breasts are also possible, and these may occur at any time during your breastfeeding journey. These include:
- If your baby is sleeping a longer period at night
- Skipped breastfeeding or pumping session
- If you’re starting to wean your baby
- Struggle with letdown reflex/oxytocin release
- Any other time you may not be nursing
The Importance of Milk Removal
Engorgement results in your baby (or a pump) not draining your breasts. In other words, the milk isn’t coming down the ducts and out the nipple pores. This can lead to excess milk in your breasts and insufficient milk removal. Pumping or hand expression to remove the milk is essential for continued milk production. The more your body can express, the more your body will know to make. Although it may seem counterintuitive if your breasts feel full, you’re telling your body that you don’t need to make more. Soft breasts with milk removal often (or on baby’s demand) produce the most milk for your baby. If you want to learn more about the basics behind breastfeeding production, check out my mini-course on Breastfeeding Basics!
If you’re trying to wean your baby and you suddenly feel engorged, try to remove pumping or nursing sessions slowly. Don’t suddenly stop offering the breast or expressing.
Natural Engorgement Treatments
- Avoid tight bras or clothing like restrictive tank tops that may be stopping the milk flow. Wear loose tops and bras with no underwire.
- Breastfeed your baby often. As long as you’re able to breastfeed and you’re not in too much pain, and your baby can latch, then that can be a natural way to relieve the engorgement.
- Use cold cabbage leaves. They are conveniently shaped like your bra cup and form to your breast. These can be used just long enough for relief. Once you feel comfort, remove them, so you aren’t slowing milk production (unless that’s your goal).
- Use cold compresses to help calm the area down. Cold is your friend when it comes to engorged breasts and reducing swelling in the area.
- Apply heat only if your engorgement is due to letdown issues and oxytocin release. The only time you would want to use heat is just before a letdown to encourage milk flow. Taking a warm shower is a relaxing way to encourage milk letdown and get engorgement relief.
- If you’re engorged because of a lack of milk removal or flow, hand massaging your breasts can help. You’ll want to massage around the nipple area in a circular motion.
- Hang your breasts in a warm bath of water. This can also help with your letdown. If you feel like they’re rock hard and you can’t get your milk to flow out, this can help release some of the hardness in the breast to make it easier to pump or latch your baby.
- Hand express your breasts for relief. Hand expression helps to soften the nipple area, and that will help your baby latch. The nipple can take on a different shape when your breasts are engorged. There are more liquid and blood flow in that area.
- You can also try reverse pressure softening to move the fluid back and away from the nipple. Using this technique, in conjunction with a warm compress and hand expression can aid in latching your baby.
When the milk doesn’t flow, your milk will go. That’s important to remember because, as a breastfeeding mama, you always want to be telling your body to continue milk production. And if you’re not removing milk, you’re not making milk, or you’re making less of it. Just remember, softer breasts are better and signal that your milk is flowing, your milk is moving, your body is making it, and it’s releasing it and giving it to your baby.
Importance of Breast Engorgement Treatment
In addition to milk flow, engorged breasts can lead to more significant problems if you don’t treat them quickly and effectively. You may experience clogged milk ducts, breast infections like mastitis if left untreated.