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How to Relieve Engorged Breasts for Breastfeeding Moms

Engorgement is one of the top issues I help new moms navigate in postpartum visits. 

It takes many by surprise – especially at how rapidly it can occur. 

Some engorgement in the first 24-48 hours can be expected due to excess fluid retention from birth. After this point, it may occur when your milk begins to “come in” or if your baby is making more milk than is being removed. 

Working with a lactation consultant to navigate your specific engorgement needs is always the best course of action (and our team of IBCLCs would LOVE to help you).

However, here are a few general recommendations that may help:

1 – Reverse Pressure Softening

This technique can relieve pressure surrounding the nipple and areola, soften this area, and make it easier for your baby to latch. It’s a great technique, especially for that initial engorgement due to fluid retention. 

2 – Lymphatic Breast Massage 

I am a huge fan of lymphatic breast massage. It’s a gentle technique that can relieve swelling and engorgement, improve milk supply, and support overall breast health. It can also help with structural issues that inhibit rib motion or tension. 

This technique is gentle yet firm and is different from some deep massages you might see. Here is my most popular video on YouTube, which briefly introduces it. 

You can find more instructions on these techniques in Fuss-Free First Year

3 – Hand Expression 

While it might be tempting to use a pump to help with engorgement, it often is a double-edged sword that leads to more engorgement (when done in addition to nursing directly from the breast or pumping exclusively). 

If you aren’t due for a nursing or regular pumping session, hand expression can be used to relieve a little bit of milk gently. It doesn’t stimulate milk production as much and allows you to remove just a small amount of milk—just enough to relieve that pressure. 

4 – CaboCreme 

Some research shows that cabbage leaves can “cabbage leaf treatment used on women with breast engorgement did reduce pain, the hardness of the engorged breasts and increased the duration of breast feeding. The currently available evidence suggests that cabbage leaf treatment helps reduce pain in breast engorgement and lengthens breastfeeding duration.”

While not all research supports this, it benefits the women I’ve recommended it to in my practice. However, cabbage leaves can be messy and annoying, which is why I recommend CaboCreme regularly. 

CaboCreme is a cream containing cabbage leaves and other natural ingredients to help with engorgement. I often recommend it while weaning, but it can also be used for postpartum engorgement. 

I typically recommend using a few drops rubbed into the breast (avoiding the nipple and areola area) up to two times a day when combined with regular breast emptying. It’s even better when refrigerated for more cooling relief. 

Of course, work with a lactation consultant to ensure this is your best option! 

5 – Ice Packs

Generally, ice/cold packs can help relieve swelling and pain associated with engorgement. They can be helpful if put on the breast after feeding for about five minutes and continue each hour for about five minutes. Make sure you aren’t putting ice directly on the breast. I like the Lansinoh Thearapearls.

In Fuss-Free First Year, I provide video examples and support for ALL of these options – and you can get added support through the supportive community I run there. Be sure to join today for access to support for ALL your breastfeeding questions – engorgement and beyond. 

I hope this helps you find some relief from your engorgement-related issues. 

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