What to Do About: Engorgement and Clogged Breast Ducts

As you are breastfeeding, you may notice changes in your breasts. They may feel heavier at times or they may be a little tender when your milk comes in. This is normal. However, sometimes this full feeling can turn into engorgement.
Engorgement and Plugged Ducts woman_sick_on_couch_dreamstime_xl_39016992

Full breasts and engorged breasts are different. Engorgement is when your breasts feel very hard and painful due to milk building up and most often happens between the third and the fifth day after giving birth.

One possible cause can be that the baby has an improper latch and isn’t transferring milk properly. It is also possible for engorgement to happen at any time during breastfeeding if you skip a feeding or the baby sleeps longer than usual.

  • Engorgement can cause:
  • Breast swelling
  • Breast tenderness
  • Warmth
  • Redness
  • Throbbing
  • Flattening of the nipple
  • Low-grade fever

If engorgement goes on too long, it can lead to clogged milk ducts and/or a breast infection. If dealt with quickly and properly, engorgement should fix itself.

 

How Can You Prevent Engorgement

Listen to your baby’s cues, (licking his lips, bringing his hand near his mouth, rooting) and make sure to breastfeed often. Allow your baby to feed as long as he or she likes. This helps keep your milk moving and keeps your baby happy. 

If you are concerned about your baby’s latch, talk to a certified lactation consultant, like Beebe’s Nancy Hastings. 

If you do become engorged, breastfeed often on the affected side to help ease the pain and to keep the milk flowing freely. This lessens the pain by preventing your breast from becoming overly full.

During an engorgement, the best thing you can do is to keep breastfeeding. Avoid pacifiers or supplemental feeding to allow your baby to become full at your breast. Pacifiers, if used, should not be introduced until your baby is about 4 weeks old and breastfeeding is well established.

Massaging the affected breast can help as can using a cold compress between feedings.

Take care of yourself by getting enough rest, eating healthy foods, and drinking plenty of water. If it helps, wear a supportive, yet comfortable, bra that isn’t too tight and doesn’t have an underwire.

If nursing your baby is putting too much pressure on your breast, try different positions, such as the carry or football hold. Here are some resources for various holds to try to improve your baby’s latch:

 

It Might be a Plugged Duct

If you are experiencing breast pain during breastfeeding and you don’t think it is engorgement, it might be a plugged duct. This can cause your breast to be tender and you may feel a sore lump in the breast. Plugged ducts are common, but they do not cause fever. If you have a fever, it might be mastitis.

When breastfeeding, milk can build up and the surrounding tissue gets inflamed. This usually only affects one breast at a time. 

To ease the pain and unclog the duct, breastfeed as often as every two hours or sooner to loosen the plug. Focus your baby’s chin in the direction near the site of the plugged duct to help loosen it and get the milk moving freely.

Massage and a warm compress in between feedings also may help. And, again, make sure to rest as much as possible!

A plugged duct can be a sign that you are doing too much, so ask your spouse, a friend or relative to help with the household duties.

If you continue to have plugged ducts repeatedly, talk to a certified lactation consultant at Beebe: (302) 645-3577.