Breast Engorgement-A Step by Step guide

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What is Breast Engorgement?

breast engorgement

Breast engorgement is something that most nursing mothers will experience.  You’ll notice that as the colostrum changes to mature breast milk, your breasts will feel warmer, fuller, and firmer.  Some of this full feeling is due to increased lymph and blood flow, but some of it is also the increased milk flow.

You may recognize it by taut, hard breasts.  It is important to deal with the breast engorgement to prevent it from causing clogged ducts and a possible breast infection (mastitis).  As well, when you are engorged, it will be harder to latch your baby onto the breast.  The following will give you some ideas on how to deal with the breast engorgement you are experiencing.

Should I breastfeed even when my breasts are engorged?

It is recommended that until your milk supply is well-established (within first six weeks), that you only nurse your baby (unless your medical professional has advised you otherwise).  This will also help with emptying the breasts on a regular basis, and hence increased comfort for you.

So, you will want to breastfeed your baby often, and avoid missing feedings.  Breast engorgement can become worse at night, and I found that I would often wake up before my baby did, just waiting impatiently for my baby to wake up so that I could get rid of the engorged feeling.  During this time, hand expressing a bit to comfort can help.

It is also a good idea to learn different positions to nurse your baby in.  This is not only good for maintenance of  nipple health, but it also helps to empty different areas of the breast.

Before beginning to nurse your baby, hand express enough milk that it softens the areola and nipple area so that your baby will be able to latch on.  I also found that either having a warm  shower or applying warm compresses to my breasts before nursing, helped to get the milk flowing and made it easier for my baby to latch on.   You may also want to use a quality breast pump to express a bit of milk before the feeding or after the feeding (if you’re still engorged), but I found that hand expressing worked just as well.

Mastitis and Breast Engorgement – Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

When you hear the word mastitis, it likely conjures up terrible things in your mind.  Although it is not comfortable, it does  not mean that you will have to quit nursing your baby.  Quite the contrary!  However, it is important for you to understand what it is, and how to recognize the signs and symptoms so that you can get better.

Mastitis is an infection in the breast, that usually occurs in breastfeeding women.  It is unknown why some people are more prone to breast infections, but they are usually caused by bacteria.  Bacteria is present all over our bodies and in the baby’s mouth, and the bacteria are thought to enter through a cracked nipple.

Cracked Nipples and Mastitis

Sometimes mastitis happens even when there are no cracks or openings on the nipples.  It is also thought that if your baby is not adequately draining your breasts, that it makes you more susceptible to breast infections.  This goes back to ensuring correct latch and positions of your baby at the breast.

You also want to prevent injury to your breast tissue by not using poor quality breast pumps.  Tight-fitting, constrictive bras could also possibly lead to problems that eventually turn into mastitis.

A breast infection can be confused with blocked milk ducts.  Blocked or clogged ducts can, however, turn into mastitis.

The following are some of the signs and symptoms of mastitis:

  • You will feel achy and feel like you have the flu, including weakness
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Painful breast
  • Redness and swelling in the breast

What should I do if I have Mastitis?

If you suspect that you may have mastitis, you need to see your family doctor or your obstetrician as soon as possible as you are likely going to need antibiotics to treat the infection.   I found that I often waited too long, and then I ended up being admitted to the hospital for a course of intravenous antibiotics.  You also want to reduce the chance of developing a breast abscess, which could require surgical intervention.

In summary, having this does not mean that you will have to quit breastfeeding.  It’s something that you can get through and by being able to recognize the signs and symptoms, you can get medical advice and start getting better soon.

Mastitis – What you can do when you have a breast infection

Now, that your physician has confirmed that you do have a mastitis and you have probably already started on antibiotics,  there are things YOU can do to help the breast infection get better.  The following will give you a summary of things that will help you:

    • You want to keep on breastfeeding.  It helps drain your breasts, and will help the infection get better more quickly. I know that it hurts.  I had this too, but using a breast pump will not drain your breasts as effectively as your baby will.  Additionally, check that the baby is latching onto the breast correctly.  If you have no option but to use a breast pump, use a high-quality pump, and begin breastfeeding again as soon as possible.
    • You need to rest.  You are ill, and need to fight off the infection. Don’t worry about the infection spreading to your baby.  Your body is producing antibodies to fight off the infection,  and this adds extra resistance to your nursing baby’s immune system.
    • Use a hot water bottle on the sore, affected area.  It will help relieve some of the pain, and help to get the milk flowing.
    • Speak to your physician to find out if it is okay for you to take something for the pain and the fever.

Advantages of Breastfeeding

Breastmilk is the gold standard for infant nutrition. There is no food that can compare with breastmilk. This amazing process begins when the pregnant mother’s body begins to produce valuable colosturm. Shortly after delivery, a mother’s breasts gradually begin to produce mature breastmilk. Colostrum can be golden or yellow, while mature milk appears white or bluish in color. As you and your baby breastfeed, your breasts will continue to produce milk, and your supply will change and increase as your baby grows.

Breastfed Babies Have Less Incidence of:

  • Allergic diseases
  • Ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases such as diarrhea, NEC, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Respiratory infections such as RSV
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Lymphoma, meningitis and urinary tract infections
  • Childhood insulin-dependent diabetes

Mothers Who Breastfeed Enjoy the Following Benefits:

  • Quicker return of uterus to pre-pregnancy size with minimal bleeding
  • The benefits of prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones of breastfeeding. Prolactin calms the breasteeding mother
  • Less chance of developing ovarian and pre-menopausal breast cancer
  • Less chance of endometrial cancer if breastfeeding continues for one year or more.
  • Less chance of developing osteoporosis.



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