When my daughter was 11 months old I took a four-day trip to New York City with a few of my girlfriends. It was the first time I’d been away from her for more than a few hours and the first time outside of the day my milk came in that I had to deal with excessive engorgement. We were touring the city, seeing shows, and doing everything else tourists do, so access to an electrical outlet for my double breast pump was quite limited. I did manage to sneak into a public restroom to pump on the way there, (talk about awkward… ‘Excuse me, could you please move your udders so I can reach the paper towels?’) but I didn’t think my fellow patrons would have been all too pleased if the musical brilliance of Newsies was overpowered by the chug-a-da-chug of my lady milking machine so I had to go hours upon hours without relief. Ergo, major engorgement. My full-to-the-max breasts make me look a little like Pamela Anderson. My girls were sore, hard, and lump. OH OUCH! Relieving engorgement was something I needed to know, as do most new moms.
Needless to say I would have greatly benefitted from a blog much like this one that could have offered me a few tips for relieving my discomfort. Luckily, my pain is your gain and I’m happy to share a few tricks of the trade for relieving engorgement both home and away.
Pump or nurse
This should go without saying but the first thing you should do when trying to relieve engorgement, if you are able, is to nurse your sweet baby! You’ll get almost immediate relief at first latch although you may want to pump or hand express a little before latching baby on to prevent the excess pressure from overwhelming them. On the same note, if baby is finished but you’re still feeling uncomfortable, pumping after can help relieve that additional discomfort. If you’re away from your baby, pumping is the second best option. Not only will it relieve discomfort but you can also stock up on your supply for the times when you aren’t home to feed your little one directly from the breast.
The wonder of warmth
If you’re in the comfort of your own home, one of the most relaxing ways to relieve engorgement discomfort is with a nice hot shower. Allowing the warmth of the water to flow down your breasts will not only provide comfort but will most likely trigger a letdown, releasing some pressure as your milk flows right down the drain. This is especially helpful when engorgement has caused soreness that makes pumping or hand expressing especially painful.
Compress the breast
A variety of compression tactics can be used to provide great relief for a painful overfull feeling. Cold packs, hot compresses, and even cabbage leaves can provide sufficient relief from swollen breasts. Tuck any of these options straight into your bra and carry on with your normal household activities.
Be prepared with the right support
Having a supportive nursing bra can be the one thing that keeps you from having a milk-soaked shirt on times when you’re out and about and unable to nurse or pump. A loose fitting bra could cause your breasts to sag, especially with the added weight of engorgement, and make them more likely to leak at your next letdown. On the flip side, if you are home and find yourself engorged, choosing something loose and comfortable or chucking the bra all together may provide the most comfort. Just be sure you have a towel handy if you’re prone to leaking.
For those of us who are used to the power and speed of electronic pumps the idea of hand expressing can seem labor intensive and time consuming. But if you find yourself without an electrical outlet or unable to tote your clunky pump around with you hand expressing can be exactly what you need to relieve some of the pressure from hours of milk buildup. Gentle breast massage, from the chest down to the nipple, will quickly get your milk flowing. If you’re out and about, don’t worry. You can easily express into a tissue, towel, or in special cases, straight into the toilet, all in the privacy of a bathroom stall. It might seem silly, but you’re breasts will thank you!
Medicines and herbs
As a last resort, there are a number of medicines and herbs that are known to help with swelling and inflammation that accompanies engorged breasts. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and herbs like sage and jasmine have been known to decrease milk supply. Be cautious when going this route because while these medicines can help relieve pain and discomfort, they can also have the negative effect of drying up your supply all together. If you’ve tried other methods but are still suffering from excessive engorgement, consult your OB.
These are my two cents. How about yours? In what ways have you successfully relieved engorgement?