by Natalie Broders, Portland Birth Photographer
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?
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!)
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.
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?
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.
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.
These might seem obvious to you, but it should be said:
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!
Many parents tell me they find my energy calming in their birth space.
Natalie Broders is a birth photographer, birth filmmaker and birth doula located in Portland, Oregon. She lives on a farm with her husband and 2 kids. They raise chickens and love to garden. Natalie loves babywearing, cloth diapering and is passionate about her work as an advocate for birthing people. She had one of her babies at a birth center and her second baby was born at home, in water.