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Your question:

What can I do about engorgement?

Expert’s answer:

This is where your breasts feel very full, and sometimes quite hard. Many Mums experience engorgement when their milk first comes in. It is very common for Mums who have had an ‘induced labour’ or a long labour with an epidural and fluids by drip to experience engorgement.

It is very important to breastfeed your baby frequently during this time. Removing milk from the breasts relieves the fullness in the milk ducts. This feeling of fullness usually goes away within 12 – 48 hours with regular feeds where your baby is well latched on and taking plenty of milk from your breast each feed.

Latching on may be a little difficult if your breasts are uncomfortably full or hard. Some tips for managing this include:

  • Place a warm, moist flannel or facecloth (warm compress) on your breast for a few minutes and hand express some milk before feeding. This can help soften your breast a little making it easier for baby to latch on.
  • After a feed or in between feeds use a cold, moist flannel or facecloth (cold compress) to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

A popular home remedy for relieving the discomfort of engorgement is the ‘cabbage leaf compress’. To make the compress, rinse the inner leaves of a head of cabbage, remove the hard stalk and crush the leaves with a rolling pin. The leaves can be chilled in the fridge or you can use them at room temperature. Drape the leaves directly over your breasts inside your bra. Change when the leaves become wilted or every two hours whichever comes first. Stop using the compress once the engorgement goes away.

Note: if you develop a rash or any other signs of allergy stop using the compress.

Contact your midwife, public health nurse, local Breastfeeding Support Volunteer or Lactation Consultant if:

  • the engorgement is not relieved by any of the self-help measures here;
    your baby is unable to latch onto your breast;
    your baby is not having enough wet and dirty nappies; or
  • you begin experiencing the symptoms of mastitis – fever greater than 38.1oC or 100.6 oF, chills and ‘flu-like symptoms’, red, painful, or swollen breasts.
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