Engorgement is technically breast swelling. In reality, it is when your breasts feel like full, hard, hot, painful watermelons.
Engorgement comes in two varieties, early onset and late onset. Late onset engorgement will be discussed in another article. Early onset engorgement happens when the colostrum shifts to mature milk, usually a few days after your baby is born. It is sometimes accompanied by a low grade fever and general achiness. Many women describe feeling like they have a mild flu just before their milk comes in.
What to do?! Feed the baby. The solution to engorgement is to get the milk out. It may be harder to latch the baby on while your breasts are engorged. Hand expressing a little milk before the feeding softens the breast a little, and may make latch on easier. Ice packs to the breasts may also give some relief. Ibuprofen will reduce inflammation and discomfort and is considered safe with breastfeeding. Another trick is to stand in a warm shower with the water gently running on your breasts and let some of the milk drain out.
There are just a couple of things to avoid in early engorgement. No heating pads, as they can worsen the swelling. And if you can avoid using a breast pump for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, that will also help. Pumps are not nearly as effective at removing the milk in early engorgement, and may make things worse.
Early engorgement is just one of the things that happen when you breastfeed your baby. It can be managed fairly easily, without much fuss. Uncomfortable though it may be, try to look at it as the fabulous beginning of your milk supply!