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Health & Baby

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Breast Engorgement - Overview

What can happen if breast engorgement gets worse?

If engorgement is severe, your breasts get very swollen and painful. Severe engorgement can make it hard for your baby to latch on to the breast properly. As a result:

  • Your baby may not get enough milk.
  • Your breasts may not empty completely.
  • Your nipples may become sore and cracked. This may cause you to breast-feed less, and that makes the engorgement worse.

Severe engorgement can lead to blocked milk ducts and breast infection, which is called mastitis. Mastitis needs to be treated with antibiotics.

How is it treated?

If engorgement is making it hard to breast-feed, use the following steps. They can relieve your symptoms and keep your milk flowing.

  • Soften your breasts before feedings. You can apply a warm compress for a couple of minutes before you breast-feed. Or you can use your hands camera.gif or use a pump to let out (express) a small amount of milk from both breasts.
  • Try to breast-feed more often. Pump your breasts if your baby won't breast-feed. Take care to empty your breasts each time.
  • Take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) to reduce pain and swelling. Ibuprofen is safe for breast-feeding moms when taken as directed. But it's a good idea to check with your doctor before you take any kind of medicine while breast-feeding.
  • If your breasts still feel uncomfortable after nursing, try a cold compress to reduce swelling. You can use a frozen wet towel, a cold pack, or a bag of frozen vegetables. Apply it to your breasts for 15 minutes at a time every hour as needed. To prevent damage to your skin, place a thin cloth between your breast and the cold pack.

If you are not breast-feeding, use one or more of these steps to relieve discomfort:

  • Do not pump or remove a lot of milk from your breasts. If your breasts are very painful, it's okay to remove just a little bit to make you more comfortable.
  • Apply a cold pack to your breasts for 15 minutes at a time every hour as needed. To prevent damage to your skin, place a thin cloth between your breast and the cold pack.
  • Take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) in addition to using non-medicine treatments. Be safe with ibuprofen. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Wear a bra that fits well and provides good support.
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