Engorgement is a build-up of milk, blood and other fluids in the breast tissue. Engorgement can occur from a few days after birth.
What is engorgement?
In engorgement, the mother has heavy, tender breasts. This is caused by increased blood flow to the breasts and by the production of milk. If the milk is not used, the breasts become heavy and painfully swollen. The skin may turn red and you can feel feverish. The degree of engorgement differs per woman: one feels that the breasts are a bit fuller, the other gets such hard, big breasts that the nursing bra does not fit anymore. You can prevent severe engorgement by attaching your child to the breast as often as possible in the first week.
What can you do in case of engorgement?
If the breasts are so painful that feeding your baby or using a breast pump becomes intolerable, it could help to have a hot shower or to bathe your breasts in a bowl of warm water. Due to the heat, the milk will flow from the breasts, which reduces the pressure. By placing cold packs on the chest, the soreness becomes less. Just before nursing, heat works best, because the milk will flow more easily. If the milk has properly come in, and your baby does not attach well, it may help to use the breast pump to completely empty the breasts once a day.
Attaching the baby
If the thrust is so severe that the nipple becomes flat or taut, you can relieve the worst of the tension with your hands or the breast pump. If the nipple feels soft, your child can attach more easily and take more of the nipple into his or her mouth, and the risk of skin damage becomes smaller.
Engorgement after the postpartum period
Even after the first days you can become engorged: when your child finally sleeps all night or skips a meal, or if more time passes between meals. This engorgement is caused by accumulated milk in the breasts. The engorgement is generally remedied once your baby eats. If necessary, you can use the breast pump to empty your breasts. If your child eats less in general, for example, because they sleep through the night more often, milk production will change after a few days. In this case, it is not advisable to use the pump because it stimulates milk production. You can, however, use the pump until the pressure in your breasts dissipates.
If you are separated from your child frequently or for a longer period of time, for example, to work or because of illness in you or your child, engorgement can be avoided by using the breast pump. Do not wait until the breasts feel sore, but empty the breasts at the normal feeding times if possible.