What Is Breast Engorgement? (And How To Make It Go Away, Because Ouch)

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Breast Engorgement
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Welcoming a new baby is an exciting time, but it also comes with its share of challenges for moms. After giving birth, your body turns its attention to healing and feeding your newborn. As a result, you may experience breast engorgement within the first week of welcoming your baby into the world. If you’re currently in the throes of such a situation, yowch. We feel your pain, Mama. Breast engorgement is a natural part of the early milk production process, but it can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t plan on breastfeeding.

Breast engorgement occurs when your breasts fill up with too much milk. This generally happens within the first few days of giving birth when your body is still figuring out how much milk it needs to produce. Signs of engorgement include tender, warm, and swollen breasts. You may even feel a bit feverish — which shouldn’t alarm you as long as it’s low-grade.

Additionally, breasts can become so full with milk that the nipple is stretched flat, which can make it difficult for your baby to latch on or even lead to clogged milk ducts. And while breast engorgement is most common shortly after giving birth, you may also experience these symptoms for other reasons. Like, for instance, if your baby’s feeding schedule is interrupted, you forget to pump, or your little one isn’t feeding as often because you’re in the process of weaning.

While breast engorgement is entirely normal, it can cause you to feel discomfort at a time when you need it the least. The last thing a new mom wants to do is have to deal with even more unexpected changes to her body. The good news is, breast engorgement can be relieved by either breastfeeding or expressing your milk, so the discomfort usually doesn’t last long. However, if you’re not breastfeeding or you’re trying to dry up your milk, dealing with engorgement will require a little bit of patience.

How do you relieve engorgement when not breastfeeding?

Whether you plan on breastfeeding or not, your breasts will begin producing milk within a week of giving birth. That production leads to a feeling of heaviness and tenderness in the breasts that can be uncomfortable. You may be wondering, Should I pump to relieve engorgement? But if you’re not planning on breastfeeding, the best thing you can do to treat breast engorgement is to avoid expressing your milk.

If you drain the milk from your breasts, either through expressing or pumping, it will signal your body to produce more, thereby prolonging the process of drying up production. Instead, Baby Centre recommends applying ice packs or cold compresses on your breasts to alleviate soreness. Additionally, you can take Tylenol or ibuprofen to help with the discomfort. Wearing a sports bra may also reduce stimulation to the breasts and encourage your body to stop producing milk.

Usually, your body will get the idea within a few days and give the signal for milk production to cease. At this point, the breast engorgement and its accompanying symptoms will subside.

Breast Engorgement Home Remedies

  • Hot massages. Rubbing warm oil on your engorged breasts will help the milk come out easier. Taking hot showers is also a great way to get your breast to express milk.
  • Cold compresses. Put a cold gel pack on your breasts. Not only will this soothe any discomfort, but it’ll minimize inflammation. Do this for about five to 10 minutes.
  • Try lying on your back. This helps extra milk and fluids reabsorb into the body. It also helps you feel less achy.
  • Raw potatoes. Grate raw potatoes and rub them on your breasts about three times a day. Keep it on for about 20 minutes.

How to Tell When Your Breast Are Engorged

When your breasts are engorged, there are a few telltale signs. Besides the discomfort and pain, your breasts may appear hardened, shiny, and warm. They may also seem lumpy and your nipples may flatten out. Having a fever over 100 degrees is also common. Some women experience enlarged or tender lymph nodes under their armpits, as well.

Will cabbage leaves encourage milk production to stop?

People give new moms all kinds of wacky advice, but using cabbage leaves to alleviate breast engorgement and encourage milk production to stop can actually work. It turns out the plant compounds found in cabbage reduce inflammation. Hence, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, these leafy greens reduce pain and hardness associated with engorgement.

If you decide to use cabbage leaves to alleviate the discomfort associated with breast engorgement, but you’re still planning on breastfeeding your baby, then you should never leave the leaves on your breasts for more than 20 minutes at a time. Any longer and your milk supply may begin to decrease. However, if stopping milk production is your goal, here’s what you should do:

  • Wash and dry cabbage leaves before placing them in the freezer (you may also want to remove the long stem running down the center of the leaves for comfort’s sake).
  • Once the leaves are sufficiently chilled, place them on your breasts. You may want to wear a loose-fitting bra to keep the cabbage in place.
  • If your nipples are sore or cracked, you may want to leave them exposed to avoid increasing any pain.
  • Leave the leaves in place until they feel warm or wilted. Discard those leaves, and repeat the process with fresh, chilled cabbage as needed.

Breast engorgement can be painful and frustrating, but the good news is it usually doesn’t last long. Whether you wait it out, use cabbage leaves to hurry the process along, or decide to take an OTC anti-inflammatory to help with the pain, breast engorgement should clear up within a few days. However, if the pain and heaviness persists, you have a high fever, or generally feel like something is amiss, you should give your doctor a call, just in case.

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