If most infant product ads are to be believed, then it would seem that motherhood consists of effortless mother-baby bonding and peaceful nights of blissful breastfeeding. But, if you’re reading this article, chances are you know the truth: Having a baby is one of life’s most ultimate joys, but it often comes with the price of engorged breasts when breastfeeding.
Why do breasts get engorged?
When you are breastfeeding, there is an increase of blood flow to your breasts, coupled with a surge in milk supply. When this happens, it means that your breasts are painfully overfull of milk.
As a rule, breasts get engorged when you produce more milk than your baby needs. Thy cup literally runneth over, and this can lead to sleepless nights.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be in pain longer than necessary, because engorged breasts can be treated at home.
Pain relief for engorged breasts
Due to the milk volume increase in your breasts, along with an increase in blood and lymph fluids flowing to the breast, it is normal and even expected for your breasts to feel heavy and tender in the first week after your baby is born. While pain and breast engorgement is normal, some mothers can experience low-grade fever when this pain is left untreated.
Here are some common methods to relieve engorged breasts:
Apply heat prior to breastfeeding – Using breast heating pads like this one (which works both as a breastfeeding heat pad and breast gel pack), apply heat to your breasts for five to 10 minutes before nursing. This will encourage milk flow when breastfeeding.
Apply cold compress in between feedings – When a breastfeeding pack is used as a cold compress, it alleviates swelling, breast pain and engorgement. The cool temperature will help decrease swollen and inflammation in the area.
Try to nurse frequently – This is to get your baby accustomed to your milk supply so that your breasts are not always full. Nursing around every one to two hours is helpful.
Massage your breasts – While your baby is nursing, try to massage the firm and lumpy bits of your breasts with your fingertips. Regular gentle massages or compressions can assist with milk drainage.
Wear a supportive nursing bra – A well-fitted, breathable nursing bra will help you feel more comfortable. A good-sized breast ice pack should fit inside your nursing bra as it will help provide hands-free pain relief.
Cold cabbage – Perhaps there’s a little bit of truth to this old wives’ remedy, but if you cannot purchase a breastfeeding ice pack yet, cabbage is apparently a good substitute. It could be due to the cabbage leaves being the perfect “cup size” shape, and the leaves’ flexibility allows them to be contoured around the engorged breast.
Tip: High-quality, luxury breast packs are already flexible from the freezer, so they will wrap perfectly around the breasts straight out of the freezer.
Ice therapy – pain relief for engorged breasts
How does ice therapy help with engorged breasts? Ice therapy, or cryotherapy, works like this: the cold temperature, which you will expose your breasts to, will constrict blood vessels and slow down milk flow. It is important to note, though, that when it comes to engorged, breastfeeding breasts, relief will come in two ways: hot and cold.
Hot compress should be applied to the breasts before breastfeeding, as this will encourage milk flow dissolve clogged ducts.
Cold ice packs, in the meantime, should be applied in between breastfeeding to help alleviate pain, decrease swelling and inflammation and temporarily decrease milk and blood flow to the breasts.
Homemade breastfeeding ice pack hacks
Seeing that ice provides pain relief to engorged breasts, many breastfeeding mothers are in search of quality breast gel packs, like this two-way cold and warm luxury Breast Gel pack by Magic Gel. If a breast gel pack is unavailable, all is not lost. These DIY breastfeeding ice pack hacks can do the trick:
Ziploc bag hack – In a large Ziploc bag (around 8 x 8 inches), combine 1 part rubbing alcohol and 3 parts water in the bag and place it in the freezer. The alcohol will prevent the water from freezing completely, so that the Ziploc bag can be flexible to mould around your breasts.
Frozen wet towel – Take a hand towel and wet completely using running water, and the squeeze out excess water completely. Place the damp, wet hand towel in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. Wrap the cool or frozen towel around your breasts for pain relief.
Frozen vegetables – Sometimes pain relief can come from what’s already in your freezer. Bags of frozen peas or any small cut-up vegetable pieces that are frozen can work well. They work well because of the malleable, flexible mass.
Cabbage leaves – This may sound very primitive or like a kitchen edition of a Sports Illustrated shoot, but some mothers swear by the cooling effect of cabbage leaves. Place a cabbage leaf over the ailing breast and leave it for one to two hours. Remember to discard the leaves after using.
Breast gel packs – the long-term solution for breastfeeding relief
These temporary hacks provide relief from painful, engorged breasts, yes, but they are not fool-proof. Ziploc bags can leak, bags of peas will need to be eaten and let’s save cabbage leaves for salads. Most of all, these hacks are not reusable. Who has time to make these every day?
Investing in a quality breast ice pack can be a mother’s best companion during their breastfeeding journey. For one, they work both hot and cold. Pop them in the microwave and use them as heat pads. This will allow breast milk to flow easily when applied. Place them in the freezer and they will provide pain and engorgement relief in between breastfeeding sessions.
They can also be used up to 300 times, providing 20 minutes of continued hot or cold therapy relief at a time.
Are you a first-time breastfeeding mum? If you have any questions about breast packs or would like to share your experience using one, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!