What is Breast Engorgement?
Breast milk is made on a supply and demand basis. Your body and your baby set up a feedback loop. When your baby (or your pump) empties your breast, your body gets the signal to make more. And together you get into a rhythm. But what happens when you miss a feeding? Missing one feeding isn’t enough to tell your body to stop making so much milk, but it can build up in your breasts.
Your body has a finite amount of room for that breast milk and when it accumulates it can get a bit cramped. This is called engorgement. Think of your breast as a water balloon. The balloon is a certain size and a certain shape. When you begin to fill the balloon, it works well. But when you start to exceed the amount of water the balloon can hold, things get a bit tight. Engorgement can be painful. And as the amount of space fills up, your breasts may leak.
How Can Pumping Help?
Nursing from an engorged breast can be like trying to nurse from a beach ball. It’s tough. Expressing a bit of the milk before trying to feed your baby can help alleviate some of the built up pressure. This makes you more comfortable and makes it easier for your baby to latch.
You have some options when it comes to pumping to alleviate breast engorgement. We’ve just mentioned the first, expressing just enough to help your baby latch. Hand expression or a manual pump are great tools for this. Next, you can opt to fully empty your breasts with a pump session. You’ll get more than your normal output if you nurse or pump. If you typically nurse, this is a fun way to gauge how much your baby typically takes in a feeding. Or you can break it up into two feedings and store the milk that way.
Too Much of a Good Thing
We mentioned the feedback loop that nursing and/or pumping creates with your body. If you frequently are engorged, say more than a few times in one week, and pump until your breasts are empty, you may be telling your body that this is the amount of milk you need. If you are frequently getting engorged breasts it may be a signal that it’s time to drop a pumping session to reduce the amount of milk you are producing. Speaking to a lactation professional can be really beneficial in helping you navigate this part of your breastfeeding journey.