Breastfeeding reminds us of the universal truth of abundance; the more we give out, the more we are filled up, and that divine nourishment – the source from which we all draw is, like a mother’s breast, ever full and ever flowing.
– Sarah Buckley
Isn’t that a pleasant summary of what life actually is? The more you give, the more you get. And by the way, breastfeeding is ideally the same. Nevertheless, no matter how much awareness breastfeeding is catching up with among new mothers, believe me, it’s not that easy either. Of course, the benefits always outweigh those of the alternatives, but there ARE challenges faced by breastfeeding mums. Here, around the #WorldBreastfeedingWeek
, I’d be discussing the challenges to breastfeeding
in a series of posts dedicated to nursing.
But, contemplating pregnancy, birth & everything that follows, lactation is often considered an effortless job. Haven’t you said to yourself, “Ah, I’ve got breasts & after birth, my hormones would just get to work & cause milk to flow. So, what’s the big deal?”
So when you possibly read through the topics of breast engorgement, you just flip the part thinking it wouldn’t happen to you. Right? Umm…I did so when I was pregnant.
What’s Breast engorgement?
If you’ve already had a baby, you’d know that you usually don’t experience breast engorgement anytime during the first 3-4 days. That’s mostly because your body doesn’t start making the actual milk right away. And the tiny amounts of minuscule gulps your baby takes in is your Colostrum. Most of us know that it’s really beneficial for your baby & that for no reason (apart from medical conditions), he/she should be missing out on it. As long as it’s colostrum, there’s no milk squirting its way from your breasts. However, when the actual milk comes in, your breasts start making lots & lots of milk upon the your baby’s sucking stimulus. This is when you tend to experience breast engorgement sometimes or very often.
Your breasts get hard, heavy, swollen & painful to touch when they’re engorged with milk. That happens when you don’t empty your breasts regularly or at the right time & the milk gets clogged in the milk ducts to give you a shooting, pinching pain. In worse cases, repeated breast engorgement can lead to infections, pus formation etc which come with hints of fever to the nursing mother.
NOTE : NEVER NEGLECT if there’s fever followed by painful breast engorgement. See the doctor immediately.
Causes of Breast Engorgement
The milk isn’t ejected at regular intervals, probably because the baby isn’t able to latch on your nipple properly enough to start sucking with a stimulating reflex. Hence, the milk remains in your boobies for a long time. This worsens as some more milk is produced in succession, but isn’t emptied at all.
It’s also a vicious cycle where your breasts are engorged & just because of that, the baby is having a hard time cupping his/her mouth over your nipple, which acquires a hard & weird curvature owing to the swollen breast tissues. All the more, many babies prefer holding on to the breast in some way while rooting & when they find it extremely hard to touch, they reject. Moreover, when you finally try to nurse from the engorged breast, the flow is too slow, forcing the baby to suck harder. This may be really exhausting for the baby.
Improper express technique
You may be expressing your milk with a faulty pump. Either the pumping action is too erratic or isn’t exerting enough pressure to pull milk out.
The Wrong Bra
Your bra may be too tight & exerting too much pressure on the breasts, which may compress the milk ducts. As a result, milk cannot flow through them. I was instructed by my OB-GYN specially on this point before my delivery. Hence, I’d suggest that you don’t start wearing tight sports bras until it’s been long that you had your last engorgement. Some women prefer & are also advised by elder ladies to ditch the bra for a few months. Well, that’s kind of impossible & really uncomfortable in my honest opinion.
Physical & mental stress can often interfere with your milk supply. Specially when yours is a nuclear family & you lack a credible support system, where you end up burning yourself out. Mommy-ing ain’t easy, I say!
When you’ve been habitually breastfeeding the child on demand & suddenly decide to stop, your body doesn’t sense the signal as quickly as expected. The breasts continue to produce milk as usual & when not emptied, there’s breast engorgement.
So, how to tackle Breast Engorgement?
1. Feed or Express regularly
When you’ve just delivered, the milk ducts usually start producing lots of milk irrespective of the baby’s nursing frequency. However, with time, your body begins to adapt to your child’s feeding pattern & interval & automatically starts secreting milk only in the required amounts during each feed.
So, try as much to feed the baby upon hunger cues or whenever he/she is awake & it’s been at least 2-3 hours you nursed last (for a baby of below 7-8 months of age). If you cannot breastfeed the child frequently, try to express decent quantities of milk with a good pump system. I personally loved the Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump.
2. Hot Showers
Whenever you’re stuck at bloated, engorged breasts, try having a hot shower bath. Massage the engorged breast(s) gently from your underarms toward the nipple. 90% of the time, this solves breast engorgement troubles. Do not freak out upon feeling hard lumps around the underarms. Try a hot water bath & you’d mostly find yourself relaxed after milk starts oozing out to relieve you.
3. Plan before Weaning
I know extended breastfeeding can be really tiring, especially during the nights, tempting you to stop for good. But even when you abruptly wean your child, your body doesn’t stop producing milk like you’d want it to. (The fact that your kid almost wants to murder you for that, is as TRUE! 😉 )
Therefore, plan way ahead the weaning deadline you’ve set for yourself & your child. Some children self-wean easily & that’s cool & easy on the mom too. If you plan to completely stop breastfeeding, say after 6 months, start reducing the frequency of your feeds gradually. Like, cut down 1 feed in 1-1.5 months & proceed the same way till you both are ready to stop.
Did you have engorgement issues? How did you deal with them? I’d want to hear in your comments.
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