Ice is a natural anaesthetic that helps reduce the pain when experiencing swollen breasts and nipples. The cold temperature slows down the pressure muscles and thus helps in reducing inflammation which causes the pain. A nursing mother experiencing breast pain may be suffering from either breast engorgement or mastitis. In this article, we will learn about these two different conditions and see how ice packs help in both scenarios.
What is breast engorgement, and how can I treat it?
Breast engorgement is the painful overfilling of the breasts that occur during breastfeeding. This usually occurs when a mother makes more milk than her baby uses. The breasts may become firm and swollen, which can make it hard for the baby to breastfeed. Breast engorgement also occurs when a mother is unable to breastfeed or pump, or when they stop breastfeeding.
If you are breastfeeding, the recovery period is within 12-24 hours, and the pain should disappear within a few days. If you are not breastfeeding, you will recover within one to five days, or when your body stops making breast milk.
Having a constant checkup is key in your treatment of breast engorgement and your safety. Make sure to have regular checkups, and call your doctor if you are experiencing problems. Make sure that you know your results if you underwent some tests and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Below are some tips that you can do at home when relieving breast engorgement:
- Take your medicines as prescribed. Do not hesitate to call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You may also take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Make sure to read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you so.
- If your baby is having a hard time latching on, let out a small amount of milk with your hands or a pump. This will help soften your nipple and make it easier for your baby to latch on.
- If your breasts are uncomfortably full, pump or express breast milk by hand just until they feel better. However, do not empty your breasts all the way, as releasing too much milk will cause your body to produce larger amounts of milk later on. This can make breast engorgement worse.
- Gently massage your breasts to help milk flow during breastfeeding or pumping.
- Apply a cool wet towel, frozen gel packs, ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables to your breasts for 15 minutes at a time every hour as needed. (Put a thin cloth between the ice pack and your skin.)
- Avoid tight bras that press on your breasts. A tight bra can cause blocked milk ducts.
To prevent breast engorgement:
- Put a warm, wet face cloth on your breasts before breastfeeding. This may help in “milk let-down”, the bodily process of increasing the flow of milk. You can also take a warm shower or use a heating pad set on low. (Never use a heating pad in bed, because you may fall asleep and burn yourself.)
- Change your baby’s position occasionally to make sure that all parts of your breasts are emptied.
- Make sure your baby is latched on properly.
- Talk to your doctor, midwife, or a lactation consultant about any problems you have with breastfeeding.
What, then, is mastitis and how can I treat it?
Mastitis is the inflammation of breast tissue that can sometimes lead to an infection. Mastitis is usually the result of a blocked milk duct that hasn’t cleared. Some of the milk banked up behind the blocked duct can be forced into nearby breast tissue, causing the tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation is called mastitis; infection may or may not be present when one is suffering from mastitis.
The inflammation results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness. You might also experience flu-like symptoms, such as the chills, fatigue and fever. You can continue breastfeeding your baby if you have mastitis. However, it may be more difficult due to the mentioned symptoms. An antibiotic will most likely cure mastitis, since it is a bacterial infection. At the same time, a reusable hot and cold pack can help relieve the symptoms.
Here are ways to treat and prevent mastitis:
- A warm pack can help soothe sore breasts while they are healing. You should apply a warm pack to the affected areas four times a day for 20 minutes at a time. Use warmth sparingly and just before breastfeeding (for up to a few minutes). Warmth can help trigger your let-down to help clear the blockage, which then relieves pain.
- An ice pack can reduce the swelling and pain in your breasts. If you notice swelling, you should apply an ice pack within 24 hours, and leave it on for 20 minutes at a time.
- Another tip to treat mastitis is to breastfeed more often than usual. Start each feeding on the sore breast. Let your baby suck long enough on this side to make sure that it is being drained well. However, take care not to let the other breast become too full, as it may cause a similar problem in that breast.
- Check that your baby is getting the milk — that is, the let-down reflex is working soon after your baby begins to suck. When your let-down happens, you may notice tingling feelings in your breasts, a sudden feeling of fullness or milk leaking from your other breast.
- If you are still experiencing symptoms, seek help from your doctor. They may prescribe you with antibiotics. If mastitis is not treated promptly, breast abscess may form.
Got a question, or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!