Engorgement is the term used to describe a breastfeeding mom’s breasts when they get uncomfortably hard. For the first two or three days of her baby’s life, a Mom’s mammary glands produce the nutrient-intense food called colostrum and she is unlikely to experience problems at this stage, though this is when successful breastfeeding should start, as that in itself will help prevent the pain of engorgement and blocked ducts.
Engorgement often develops after about Day Three, when her milk ‘comes in’. There are three degrees of engorgement:
- A normal full feeling with her breasts heavy and often bigger
- Very firm breast tissue which however doesn’t extend to the areola and nipple
- Almost rock-hard and painful breasts with the areola and nipple pulled taut, making it difficult for Baby to latch
Due to the pressure from the engorged breast tissue, the milk ducts can become blocked. Pain with lumps palpable in the breasts is often the first warning sign. Blocked ducts prevent the milk from flowing and can in turn lead to inflammation of breast tissue, mastitis or in time even a breast abscess.
Let’s get practical!
If breasts are not adequately emptied by a good latch and frequent suckling, milk may thicken in and block the ducts. Engorgement and blocked ducts may lead to breast infections like mastitis and abscesses. Help moms with these tips:
- Always feed baby from the fuller, heavier breast first
- If minor symptoms of engorgement begin, feed baby immediately
- Use warming or cooling gel pads to soothe swelling, pain and inflammation – those that do both are best
- Application of blanched cabbage leaves can help draw out any blockages
- Alternating hot and cold cloths to the breast promotes milk flow and soothes pain
- Apply a little Arnica oil and massage the area gently until the lumpiness lessens
- Bath or shower until breasts are thoroughly warm and then massage the affected area until milk drips out
- Baby must feed or milk must be expressed, no matter how painful, to treat and provide relief
- If she has fever, she might need speedy medical attention for infection