Breastfeeding, although a miraculous journey for you and baby, can be a real challenge. Whether you are a new mom or a mom of many, delivering a baby is emotionally and physically exhausting! Now that your baby is here, your worries may have shifted to if they’re going to easily latch or if your breasts will become engorged.
As a lactation consultant, engorgement is a common topic that moms ask me to explain. Before diving into how to prevent it and survive it, let’s briefly go over what leads up to breast engorgement.
What leads to breast engorgement?
First, you will experience breast fullness after your baby is born. This is when your breasts feel heavier and more firm. Initially, this will occur when your breast milk volume increases 3-5 days after delivery. Fullness will also occur over the first few months of breastfeeding after several hours have passed between feeds or when your baby starts sleeping more at night. You may still be able to latch your baby deeply, but it may take more attempts and it might be more difficult to stay latched.
Fullness can progress to breast engorgement quickly. This is when your breasts become extremely enlarged and hardened from the increased production of breastmilk (that isn’t getting fully removed), retained water (edema), and inflammation. Your skin will feel stretched tight and your breasts may be tender to the touch or outright painful. At this point, you might find that you can’t latch baby deeply anymore and milk doesn’t flow freely, making emptying the milk from your breasts almost impossible.
Breast engorgement prevention
Fortunately, engorgement is avoidable in most cases. Here are 3 ways to help prevent breast engorgement:
1) Breastfeed early and often.
Make sure to breastfeed your baby as soon as possible after birth. It is not unheard of for a baby to latch minutes after being born. In fact, there should be at least 8-10 feeds during the first 24 hrs of your newborn’s life. You can’t breastfeed too much so breastfeed as much as possible. Allow your baby to empty 1 breast completely before switching to the other. Also, don’t be afraid to wake your baby to feed.
2) Achieve a deep latch.
A shallow latch, that sits on the nipple instead of up to the edge of the areola, is a common cause of engorgement. You must latch your baby deeply for the best milk removal. If you can’t latch your baby deeply, see a lactation consultant.
3) Learn and use the hand expression of breastmilk.
If your breasts start to feel full and tight, hand express a few drops to help soften the nipple and areola before trying to latch your baby. I recommend doing this for 1-2 minutes. It will help you get a deeper latch and prevent the progression to engorgement. The reverse-pressure softening technique can also help.