What causes engorged breasts when breastfeeding?

The first technique is called ‘reverse pressure softening’

The aim of this technique is to push the excess fluid further back into the breast from the nipple and areola, to relieve the pressure and to enable the baby to latch on.  Apply pressure with two or three fingers of each hand, flat against the sides of the nipple.

Hold the pressure steady for 1-3 minutes.  You can do the same thing by using the back of a cold wine glass – push the stem/flat side of the glass over the nipple and areola, and hold for a few minutes.  Latch the baby immediately after.

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The second technique is basic, firm but gentle massage of the breast from the chest wall toward the nipple before nursing

Use the flat parts of your fingers, not the tips, or the palms of your hands.  The goal is the same:  to move the fluid from the chest wall towards the nipple so the milk can drain out.

Breast massage can help to increase blood circulation in the breast, reduce discomfort, improve skin tone, unblock plugged, milk ducts, improve lymphatic drainage, and can be a useful tool in self examination.

Use a light lotion or oil (coconut oil or olive oil is good for this) to help decrease friction.  Start under the armpits (to start lymphatic drainage) and use a gentle rubbing or squeezing motion.

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Address the cause of your engorged breasts first

Massage can help with engorgement, but it is imperative to understand that the cause (milk stasis) has to be addressed first.  In the first few days after birth, engorgement will clear up without treatment with massage, as long as the milk is drained by latching the baby or pumping/expressing the milk.

It may be very uncomfortable for the mother though.  Cold cabbage compresses can help reduce swelling in the breast, as will cold and warm compresses, and a gentle massage may help the milk to let-down and flow.  Latch and feed your baby often to prevent and/or relieve engorgement, and try to not over stimulate your breasts – this will cause a higher milk production, which can make engorgement worse.

If engorgement persists for longer than 2 days, it is important to seek help from a lactation consultant IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to find the cause of the swelling, help reduce engorgement, prevent complications and to help correct latch.

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