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It's quite common for people who have had a baby and are breastfeeding to get breast engorgement. It's a side effect of some of the many physical changes your body goes through after giving birth.
We've written this guide to explain why breast engorgement happens and to help you learn how to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms that come with it.
When your breasts become overly full of breast milk, they can swell and get inflamed. This is known as breast engorgement. It's a painful condition that's caused by increased milk supply and blood flow and may make it difficult for your baby to latch on if they're breastfeeding.
If your boobs are engorged, they may feel painful, hard, and tight, and breast milk may leak from your nipples. Other symptoms of breast engorgement include your boobs feeling warm to the touch and your nipples becoming painful, flat, or hard. Some women also experience a mild fever below 38°C that usually settles within 24 hours.
The pregnancy hormones estrogen and progesterone drop when your placenta is delivered after the birth of your baby. From that moment, prolactin (the hormone that tells your boobs to make breast milk) begins to kick in. This can lead to breast engorgement.
Within three or four days post-birth, blood flows to your breasts and they go through different stages of producing milk, from producing colostrum to making transitional, and then mature milk. This fast-paced process is known as your breast milk coming in and can cause your boobs to feel very full and swollen, otherwise known as breast engorgement.
While there's no set time when breast engorgement will subside, the worst of engorgement usually comes soon after birth.
Although breast engorgement can be uncomfortable and it can take a few days for your breast milk supply to match your baby's needs, it's important to note that the uncomfortable symptoms that come with it should gradually ease as you breastfeed or express milk from your breasts.
If you're breastfeeding, it should ease within two to three days. But it's important to note that it can reoccur for as long as you're breastfeeding or pumping.
Pop a cool, clean cabbage leaf onto your boob after feeding or expressing. This is a popular home remedy that may help with the swelling, but it's not guaranteed to work for everyone
If they're engorged, your boobs may become overly full very fast. While having lots of breast milk may sound like a good thing when you have a hungry baby to feed, it can make it difficult for them to latch.
To help you can:
Even if you're not breastfeeding, your breasts will still start to produce breast milk for a couple of days after birth, and therefore, engorgement can happen. It typically gets better within several days, and after a couple of weeks, your body will stop making breast milk altogether if you're not pumping or feeding.
If you're not breastfeeding, you can try these tips to help relieve the discomfort caused by post-birth engorgement:
Your boobs may leak if they're overly full, which isn't a health risk, but it can be inconvenient and cause discomfort.
In rare cases, engorgement can get so bad that breast milk isn't able to flow at all, as the breast changes shape and the milk ducts become so narrow that nothing can get through.
If you've followed the tips above but are still struggling to relieve the symptoms of breast engorgement yourself, don't hesitate to ask your midwife, health visitor or Lactation Consultant for advice and support.
Engorgement can happen whenever you decide to stop breastfeeding, so it's best to slowly wean your baby off breastfeeding to avoid an oversupply of breast milk. Expressing a little between feeds and spacing them out, using ice packs regularly on your breasts, and avoiding hot showers can also help to relieve engorgement when you choose to stop breastfeeding.
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