You feel soreness and are very uncomfortable. Your breasts are very full and yet, it’s hard to express any milk. There may be a red area or a hard spot on your breast. This can happen for several reasons. Pay attention to how you feel and address it now. Breastfeeding is supposed to be comfortable.
If you have a temperature, the swelling is spreading, you are not getting better in 24-48 hours, call a health care provider. This blog describes practical, inexpensive therapies that you can do at home.
The first thing to do is relieve the swelling. Cool compresses are most effective. Warmth actually makes the tissue swell more. Use a cold pack or ice, wrapped in a cloth, and put it on your swollen breast. Apply the cool compress for ten minutes, every 30 minutes, as long as you want. 10 minutes on, 30 minutes rest. Repeat. Eventually, the cool compress will reduce the swelling.
Feed your baby as you normally would. Normal suckling on that one breast will remove some of the milk. One breast will provide more milk than the other, that’s okay, feed on both sides. You do not need to do extra pumping or feeding. That only adds more to an already full breast. If your baby isn’t feeding, gentle expression is helpful.
Gentle Expression can help move the fluid along and address swelling. It’s important that you are gentle, only lightly moving the fluid along. You do not dent or stretch your skin/the tissue. If you’ve left a red mark where you massaged, that is too hard.
The most excellent techniques, in my opinion, are these two gentle breast massage techniques. As you watch these two videos, notice how gentle they are.
Maya Bolman, IBCLC demonstrates an effective massage technique on this wonderful video.
Julie Matheney, IBCLC has an excellent resource for relieving very full, tight breasts in this video of Lymphatic Drain Massage.
The drawing (see inset) illustrates an easy technique to improve letdown. With just your fingertips, starting from below your collarbone, aside your ribs, across from your armpits, up from your belly…stroke gently towards the nipple. North – East – South – West, All four quadrants of the breast. (It rhymes!) A minute or two of this before you pump or feed is helpful, even if you’re not engorged.
Simple motion: Circling your arms, rolling your shoulders and neck moves fluid and improves milk flow; even taking deep breaths moves fluids. Do this throughout the day. It’s a good practice for your posture and general calmness, even when all is going well. Recuperative rest, a.k.a. naps, can help, too. Give your body time to rebalance.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and has traditionally been used to reduce swelling. For breast engorgement, you can make a topical paste (on the surface of your skin) with turmeric powder and water. Wrap that in a cloth or paper towel and put the compress on the swollen area. Turmeric is a yellow dye that will stain your clothes, towels and sheets so be careful where you put it.
These are all things you can do at home fairly easily. When you treat it early on, it should resolve easily. You may need other remedies. As always, listen to your body. Talk to your midwife/doctor if there’s no improvement or you just feel lousy.