Top 3 Tips to Relieve Engorgement: Postpartum survival guide

by Natalie Broders, Portland Birth Photographer

Treating Engorgement

Let me take a guess. When you were pregnant, you probably prepared for birth.

Did you read books? Check. Take a class? Check.

Prepare for breastfeeding?
*crickets*

Girl, same.

Absolutely NOTHING could have prepared me for the engorgement that happened on day 3 or 4 – when your milk comes in.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you!

(BTW, the second time around, I didn’t remember CRAP about engorgement from my first kid. The postpartum newborn haze is pretty strong.)

Engorgement is normal. But that doesn’t make it any easier. When your milk comes in, your breasts can become so swollen and hard, they look fake – no joke. It’s actually quite shocking!

This is partially because they’re full of milk, but the tissue ALSO swells with inflammation.

Here are my top 3 tips to relieve engorgement! (Baby’s not here yet? File this away for later!)

Hot & cold

Use a cold compress for up to 20 minutes before nursing. Remember, this is inflammation we’re dealing with. Use cool compresses like you would on an inflamed muscle.

Stand in a warm shower right before nursing (water on your back, not your front) – but use sparingly. Warmth can increase swelling and inflammation. It’s useful to help get the milk flowing, especially if you are trying to hand express. Only use warmth for a few minutes.

Ibuprofen

Talk to your doctor first, and take into consideration any medical conditions you may have. But ibuprofen is a no-brainer when it comes to inflammation, right?

Hand express

Try to breastfeed first, but if you need to take the pressure off, hand expression is your best bet. Unlike pumping, you keep control of the flow of milk. Express enough to take the pressure off, which might help your baby have a better (painless) latch. If hand expression doesn’t work, a hand pump is the next best choice.

Reverse pressure softening

If your breast is so firm and so engorged that your baby cannot even latch, you might need to try reverse pressure softening. It sounds weird, but it’s basically massaging your breast from the nipple outward, to soften the areola around the nipple so baby can get a deep latch. A good latch is the key to removing milk, and removing milk is going to relieve engorgement.

Keep in mind

These might seem obvious to you, but it should be said:

  • Nurse on demand (watch for baby’s cues)
  • Sleepy baby? Wake every 2-3 hours (or 4 hours at night)
  • Latch. Is. EVERYTHING!! Baby needs to have a good (DEEP) latch to effectively remove milk. You need baby to remove milk efficiently to reduce engorgement. This is hands-down the best video about how to get a good latch.

Sources:
Engorgement by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBLCC (Kellymom.com)
Engorgement by La Leche League International (llli.org)

Final thoughts

Lastly, I wanted to tell you that IT WON’T ALWAYS BE THIS HARD!

The first days with a newborn can be very intense. It’s going to get easier.

You’re doing a great job! You’ve got this!

I don’t just care about birth photography.

I care about you.

Many parents tell me they find my energy calming in their birth space.

As a

About Me

Hi, I’m Natalie!

Birth Photographer
Portland, OR

  • Had two births with midwives (one at home)
  • Trained doula
  • Breastfeeding support group leader
  • Homeschool mama
  • Babywearing advocate
  • Cloth diapered two kids
  • Lives on a small farm with chickens, goats, cows

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