The idea of breast engorgement has a negative connotation since it can lead to problems such as lowered milk supply or even mastitis (an inflammatory condition that may lead to infection).
So what causes engorgement and how can you prevent it?
Engorgement feels like the breast tissue is very hard, overfull, and may be painful to touch.
**If the breast becomes red, hot, and shiny you may have mastitis and should go see a doctor for medical treatment.
The main reason for engorgement is pressure or restriction of the breasts. This happens with the use of tight bras or breast shells that restrict the breast tissue. It can also occur if you are not regularly expressing milk which can be presented in missed breastfeeding sessions.
This could be a common problem for women who are regularly separated from their baby and unable to pump OR their baby is having difficulty transferring milk resulting in a build up in the breast.
Another more uncommon issue that causes mastitis or engorgement is anemia which results in decreased milk 'flow'.
All of these situations can cause engorgement, but being aware may help you prevent engorgement in the future.
But what about if you already have engorgement and want to make sure it does not lead to mastitis?
One of the main ways to prevent mastitis is emptying the breast. If your engorgement is to the point that your baby is unable to latch, you may need to pump or express by hand enough milk to soften the breast tissue. It is also recommended to wear loose fitting bras as well as non-restrictive clothing.
Please note: We do not recommend using cabbage leaves as a cure for mastitis because it may dry up/decrease a mother's milk supply.
"Can I breastfeed if I am engorged or have mastitis..."
Yes, you can breastfeed even if you are engorged and even in most mastitis cases.
Again, if you are showing signs of mastitis, you need to seek help from your doctor so that your breast tissue does not become infected. You should be able to breastfeed in most cases of mastitis, but severity of each case must be reviewed by your doctor before any conclusions are made.
If you have any more questions or are struggling with recurring engorgement, please reach out to Mamas Maternal Health through our website to sign up with us!
Until next time!
Mikayla and Cassie
Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors
Reference: The Lactation Counselor Training Course Notebook (2018)., Healthy Children Project, Center for Breastfeeding
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