Updated: Feb 25, 2021
When you're about 16 weeks pregnant, your body begins to make colostrum, the first milk your baby will receive when they are born. Once your baby is born, they breast/chest feed which helps to expel your placenta and with regular nursing, triggers new hormones in your body to begin the process of making mature milk. Colostrum is packed with antibodies and high nutrient content, and acts as a gentle laxative that helps move the meconium, the sticky tar-like substance from your baby's bowels that they poop when they are born It also coats your baby's intestines with a protective layer that prevents gastro illnesses and provides good gut flora to get your baby off to a healthy start in life! Amazing right!? Your baby's stomach is quite small when they are born and will not need much colostrum to be full. About 3-4 days after birth, your baby's stomach is a bit bigger and your body begins to make mature milk. This is when the discomfort of engorgement can happen, making it difficult to latch your baby, causing sore and/or damaged nipples. And if you had IV fluids during your labour and birth, fluid retention can impact this as well. Here's some things to try in the event that your breasts become engorged: 1)
Using your hand, a pump, or your partner's mouth, express about an ounce or more to relieve the full feeling, enabling softening of the areola and allowing the nipple to extend, making it easier for baby to latch. Be sure to not express more than a couple ounces of milk as this will send a signal to your breasts to make more milk. Your baby will regulate your milk supply sufficiently with on-demand feeding.
In cases of fluid retention along with engorgement, use Reverse Pressure Softening (RPS) before latching. This technique pushes the fluid away from the areola to allow the nipple to extend for baby to latch easier.
Use ice packs or refrigerated cabbage leaves to relieve pain, pressure and swelling in the breasts between feeds. There is no evidence to show that it is beneficial, but some say that scoring the cabbage with a fork will release it's anti-inflammatory juices to help with swelling even further.
Apply heat to the breast for 1 to 2 minutes before a feeding to help with getting the milk flowing and prevent clogged ducts.
Get help from a lactation professional to gain tools and confidence to get you off to a good start in your parenting journey!