10 Ways to Relieve Breast Engorgement

Many mamas suffer from engorgement early on when they’re breastfeeding. The good thing is that your supply usually evens out after a few days… but those few days can seriously make you question whether breastfeeding is even worth it.

When I had my first baby via c-section, my milk came in on day five. Beside the fact that I looked like I could perform in adult movies (much to my husband’s delight), it was fairly uneventful experience. I continued to nurse as usual, on demand and without pain.

When my second son was born, it was a completely different story. My milk came in on day four— and I knew it. Mostly because I thought my chest was going to rip apart. I was so full and it was painful to the touch. Nursing hurt almost as much as not nursing and every 15 minutes, I seriously considered quitting breastfeeding.

Luckily, I had quite a few mama friends that gave me some great advice. A few days later, I no longer felt like I needed to grit my teeth and curse under my breath before breastfeeding and the pain slowly went away. Here were some ways I found to relieve engorgement in the beginning.

1. Nurse on demand – It’s unlikely that you’ll be doing anything different in the first few days of your baby’s life anyway, but it must be said… nurse on demand! Whenever your wee one is hungry, nurse away.

2. Nurse often – Your baby is probably going to want to eat every two to three hours during the day (or more often) but nursing often includes at night. To prevent or help engorgement in those first few days/weeks, you might consider waking your baby at night to eat.

3. Completely empty one side before offering the other – Every baby and mama is different. Some women only nurse on one side per feeding and others nurse on both. But to help engorgement, empty one side completely and then offer the other side to the baby.

4. Gentle massage while nursing – If you’ve experienced engorgement, then you know that your breasts can become rock hard and checking them will HURT. Gently massaging your breasts while baby is nursing can provide some relief and make it easier for baby to latch on.

5. Pump or hand express – When you’re so engorged that it’s uncomfortable and painful between feedings, it’s okay to pump (or hand express) a little milk just to relieve the pressure. Don’t pump until empty because that will signal to your body that it should make more milk, but just enough to make it more comfortable.

6. Warm compress before and cold afterward – A warm compress will soften the breasts and help make letdown less painful and your baby’s latch a little easier. A cold compress or pack after nursing and between sessions will provide some relief. A mama friend taught me a great trick – put a little water in a disposable breast pad (one tablespoon maybe) and put the pads in the freezer. Once the water is frozen you can put them right in your bra or nursing tank. No messy water to clean up and the ice packs fit perfectly to your body!

7. Cabbage leaves – Cabbage leaves are sometimes used to help women that don’t breastfeed to “dry up” after their baby is born. Used in small increments, it can help with engorgement. Simply peel off a couple of cabbage leaves from a head and roll it with a rolling pin to crack the veins and get the juices flowing. Put them directly in your bra or tank on your breasts. I did this three times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Beware of using them for too long as they will decrease milk supply.

8. Ibuprofen – Talk to your doctor, but using an over-the-counter pain reliever can be fine for most mamas to relieve some pain due to engorgement.

9. Supportive bra – Make sure that you’re wearing a supportive bra all day and night. Make sure it fits properly and isn’t too tight and that there is no underwire (which can cause clogged ducts).

10. Relax and know that This, Too, Shall Pass – Engorgement typically only lasts from 24-48 hours, though when you’re in the thick of it, you’re probably counting the seconds. Try to relax, spend time with your little one and know that the pain will be short lived.

How did you deal with engorgement during breastfeeding? 

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