How can I tell if my breasts are engorged?
Between the second and fifth day after giving birth, it’s normal for your breasts to become larger, heavier, and a little sore as they begin producing greater quantities of milk. Some of the fullness is due to extra blood and lymph fluids in the breast tissue. This fullness usually eases within the first two to three weeks after delivery and your breasts should feel softer, even when your milk supply is plentiful.
But if your breasts feel hard, swollen, throbbing, lumpy, uncomfortably full, or painful, you are likely engorged. The swelling may extend all the way to your armpit and you may even run a low fever.
Engorgement can make it difficult for your baby to breastfeed effectively. A hard areola makes it challenging for your baby to latch on deeply, which can lead to painful nipples and a low milk supply. Engorgement can also lead to serious health concerns, so call your doctor or lactation consultant if your breasts are hard and painful, if you have a fever higher than 100.4 Fahrenheit, or if your baby has problems breastfeeding.
What causes engorgement?
You may become engorged if you’re not able to nurse your baby frequently or thoroughly enough to empty your breasts in the first few days after birth. This is important even though you may only be producing a small volume of milk right after delivery. But some women become engorged no matter how well and often their baby breastfeeds.
You may also become engorged if your milk ducts are obstructed. This can happen if you’ve had breast augmentation and the implants take up so much room that there’s not enough space left inside the breast for the increased blood, lymph, and milk. Ducts can also become obstructed if you regularly wear a bra that’s too tight. (If you suspect your bra is too tight, read our tips to find the right bra size.)
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