About the Author
Claire Martin is a parenting writer at the Denver Post. Her writing has won
national and regional awards, and has appeared in publications such as the St. Petersburg
Times, Good Housekeeping, and Sunset magazine. She lives in Denver
with her husband and two daughters, both of whom were breastfed.
From THE NURSING MOTHER'S PROBLEM SOLVER by Claire Martin. Copyright © 2000 by Claire
Martin. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Q: My breasts are so engorged that they look like balloons. My newborn can't
latch on, or if he does manage, he loses his grip. I tried expressing some milk,
but my breasts are still too hard. What can I do?
A: Most new moms have engorged breasts-it's common, but painful. As the milk
comes in for the first time, the vessels surrounding the lymph nodes are flushed
with blood. Engorged breasts are hard, are hot, can hurt, and-as you pointed out-
can make it difficult for a newborn to latch on because the aerola is too firm.
There are several ways to relieve engorged breasts:
- Take a very warm (but not unbearably hot) shower. Stand with your back to the shower,
and gently massage out the milk by hand. (Don't worry-you'll still have plenty of
milk left for the baby, and it will take a while for your breasts to replace the
expressed milk.) Express until your breasts are soft enough to allow the baby to
latch on and suckle. Your breasts will still feel huge, but more pliant.
- Place raw cabbage leaves-whole or torn-in your bra. No one really knows why this
works, but something in the cabbage leaves reduces engorgement.
- Warm a couple of hand towels in the dryer or microwave. (They're ready when they're
hot enough to barely handle, like the heated towels that customers use at Japanese
restaurants.) Lay the warm towels on your breasts. The heat probably will inspire
some letdown, which will relieve the pressure, and the towels will absorb the milk.
- Use a breast pump (electric pumps are better than hand pumps) to empty some milk
from your breasts. This is easier than taking a shower if you're still recovering
from a c-section, and you can save the milk in the freezer to use later.
- Let the baby nurse as often as she wants. This will help your milk supply stabilize
more quickly and reduce the engorgement. Feeding sessions may last 15 to 40 minutes
at first. As your baby gets older, she'll become more efficient at nursing and may
nurse for only 10 to 15 minutes or so.
Find the number for your local La Leche League club, and call the leader; she can
share practical advice and lend support.