You have just come home with your new baby, and your body is still hard at work to help you heal and get food for your newborn. There are still a lot of things you are still trying to learn that no one thought to warn you about. Here's one: swollen, firm, and painful breasts. If your breasts are swollen and feel like they're ready to burst, I am sorry mama, but you are most likely experiencing breast engorgement.
What the heck is breast engorgement?
Breast engorgement is when your breasts start to develop swelling in the breast tissue because there is too much milk in the breast. This usually happens when you are producing more milk than your baby is using. It also usually happens when your milk first comes in during the first few days after the birth of your baby or also if you suddenly stop breastfeeding.
How can I tell if my breasts are engorged?
Symptoms of engorged breasts include:
- Swollen, firm, painful breasts, that are slightly lumpy to touch.
- Tightly stretched skin that may look shiny.
- Flattened nipples and very difficult for your baby to latch on.
- Slow milk flow.
What Do I Do Now?
Okay, so my breasts are frickin' huge. They hurt. My nipples have gone flat. My baby is not latching. I am so done with life. What do I do now?
Plenty of women experience breast engorgement, so there is no need to panic - you are not alone! Breast engorgement can be treated at home, and if you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, it is crucial that you find fast relief. If engorged breasts are left untreated, it can lead to sore and cracked nipples.
Try Reverse Pressure Softening
This technique is a new way to soften the areola and help make latching and removing your milk easy while you and your baby are still figuring things out. Reverse pressure softening briefly moves mild or firmer swelling away from under the areola, slightly backward into your breast for a short period of 5-10 minutes. This allows your areola to change shape easily and makes latching easier as the softened areola helps your nipple extend more deeply into your baby's mouth.
If you need to remove milk for your baby with fingertips or pump, use reverse pressure softening, whenever needed. You may also gently massage milk forward in the breast. Avoid long pumping sessions and high vacuum settings on breast pumps to avoid movement of extra retained tissue fluid into the areola and nipple.
Okay that sounds good, but how do I do it?
The key is making the areola very soft right around the base of the nipple, for better latching. A softer areola helps baby’s tongue remove more milk, while being very gentle to your nipple.
Figure 1: Two Handed, One-Step Method
Fingernails short, fingertips curved; each one touching the side of the nipple.
Figure 2: Two Handed, Two-Step Method
Using 2 or 3 straight fingers on each side, first knuckles touching nipple. Move 1/4 turn. Repeat above & below nipple.
Figure 3: Two Thumbs, Two-Step Method
Using both thumbs, place one each side of the nipple with the base of each thumbnail at the side of the nipple. Move 1/4 turn, repeat with thumbs above and below the nipple.
Try these methods to make the areola soft around the base of the nipple. Reverse Pressure Softening should not cause any discomfort. It usually takes moms about 2-4 days or more for the swelling to go away. Please navigate to this link for more information on reverse pressure softening.