Monday, June 25, 2012

Breastfeeding: Engorgement Blows Sometimes

Let's talk about boobs. Specifically, your boobs on breast milk. I'm going to talk a lot about boobs on breast milk in the coming month because I had a lot of things happen when I was breastfeeding three kids, so I want to share them, in the hopes that if someone else comes across any of these issues, they'll be armed with some info, or at least be able to say, "oh, I've heard of this happening before, it's okay". 

Before though, I feel the need to make a disclaimer. I can tell that some hardcore breastfeeding advocate might read this and get all pissed off and think that I am doing some huge disservice to women and babies everywhere because by talking about the difficult, stressful times, I could be putting women off of breastfeeding. 

Actually, my intention is exactly the opposite of that. While I couldn't care less whether or not a woman chooses to breastfeed, I believed in it for me and my babies and went through hell several times over in my determination to break through the tough times I had from getting the hang of breastfeeding. So, in writing these posts on breastfeeding, it's to bring awareness to others that it's not all peaches and cream and good times and easy, but you can get through it. And go on to have a successful breastfeeding relationship, should you choose to keep on that train. I fully believe that awareness is crucial, and that somebody is more apt to power through a tough time if they are aware of the obstacles and know how to combat them, instead of being surprised and lost and discouraged.

And, I am not saying that what I experienced is going to be the case for everyone, not even close. You may or (hopefully) may not experience any of this, and some people have a WAY easier time getting the hang of breastfeeding. Some people have absolutely zero problems with it. I wasn't one of them.

Moving on, it's come to my attention over the years that not many people are willing to offer up to pregnant moms what exactly happens to your boobs after you give birth and the milk comes in. Well, I'm willing. And trust me, the baby books can gloss over what really happens and kind of under-exaggerate the severity of what some moms go through.

One under-exaggeration being that when your milk comes in, your boobs will be "full" and "tender" and "uncomfortable" and "some moms find them to be a little painful". The truth: Your boobs can turn into excruciatingly painful rocks. Like, lumpy boulders full of swollen, burning pain, sitting right there on your chest. This is called engorgement and let me tell you, it is NOT fun. It typically happens about 4 days after birth, but everyone is different, and the milk comes in sooner the more babies you have (with my third, it only took two days). 

We obviously saw lots of family in the first weeks after each child was born and of course everyone wants to hug the new mom. And, the last thing I wanted was a hug, because the slightest whisper of a touch created ungodly amounts of pain and sometimes even triggered a painful, stinging, gushing let-down of milk. (A let-down is when your milk begins to rush out of your nipples to drown the baby for baby to more easily eat.) And the pain from the hugs made me want to first scream out OH GOD THE PAIN and then karate-chop the person in the face, so they were lucky I was incapacitated by pain from their touch and the c-section recovery. It's best to just politely beg off the hugs during engorgement.

Another under-exaggeration in all the baby books is that engorgement only lasts for 24-48 hours.

FUCK THAT LIE.

Mine lasted for THREE WEEKS. Yes, THREE WEEKS. Now, I'm not saying that you're going to have the same problem and I hope to God, you do not, but you should just know that it can and does last longer for some people. And no, I was not perpetuating the engorgement by pumping all the time and therefore telling my breasts to make more milk. I was just a super-prolific milk-maker and apparently, my body thought I had birthed 10-month-old triplets and needed that much milk. Apparently, my boobs are slow learners. 

I did, however occasionally pump for just a minute or two because after a while, the pain from 8-10 ounces of milk hanging out in just one breast (not an exaggeration) for hours and hours would become too much (baby can only eat so much and only so often). I would actually start to feel nauseous, nearly in tears, and literally incapable of movement, the pain was so bad, so I finally had to hook up to the milk machine just to get some relief before I cut my tits off with a chainsaw. Or started offering to nurse random babies in the neighborhood like a creep. The trick is to only pump in extreme circumstances (which hit about once or twice a day) and for only a minute or two, just to ease off some of the pressure. Because breast milk works on a supply and demand cycle, so the more you tell your boobs to make, the more they will make. So be careful with the pumping during the engorgement period. 

To ease the pain, I've heard that ice packs do wonders, but I was more a fan of the warm compresses and showers. But really, for me, nothing worked. I had had c-sections, so I was already on some pretty serious pain meds, and they didn't even help. So I was up shit creek without a paddle and just had to power through. If you feel comfortable taking it, ibuprofen helps reduce swelling and may work for the less severe cases. After the hard-core pain wore off from the c-section and I didn't need to take the serious drugs for pain anymore, I switched to ibuprofen, which was recommended by my doctor, and it didn't really help out my boob situation; just the incision pain.

I asked for tips for easing the engorgement period from other moms, and this is what they provided (some are what I've talked about but I'll list them anyway just to have a comprehensive list):


1. This one was mentioned several times - Cold cabbage leaves in your bra; change when they start to wilt. But one person provided this additional info: Don't do this too many times a day or you will dry up too much. Do it maybe 3 times a day, 30 minutes at a time. *UPDATE* AND, be sure to wash the cabbage leaves and/or your breasts after using them; an awesome reader (thank you, Lindsay) commented that her friend's baby got an infection and had to be hospitalized, and the doctor said it was from bacteria from the cabbage leaves.
2. Bags of frozen peas on your boobs.
3. Hot showers (the warmth stimulates the let-down reflex, easing some of the pressure).
4. Warm compresses.
5. Pump only for relief.
6. Tight sports bras

Cabbage leaves: not just for your mouth!
photo credit: stockphoto.com


Also, during the engorgement period, when I would be nursing baby on one side and get the let-down, the other side would turn into a faucet, leaking and straight-up spraying breast milk everywhere (I'm sorry for that visual). And NO nursing pad could hold all that gushing milk, so I had to stuff a cloth diaper/burp rag into my bra, and it would get absolutely soaked. The entire thing. So keep some of those handy.


My boobs hurt from writing this. 

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27 comments:

  1. Hahahahaha. I wish I had been able to read something like this before I hit that confusing time where I don't know what the hell I'm doing, or why I hurt or what to do!

    I'm glad you are communicating the real story to the masses.

    One thing that I was NOT expecting was - on that rare time when you are not actually in the company of your baby - and you hear another one cry (in Target, no less)... was that if not wearing a nursing pad, you WILL soak your t-shirt in the check out line and frantically hope that the baby crying will stop because YOUR boobs can hear them!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, Kylee, the crying baby let-down! My next breastfeeding post actually has to do with nursing pads and why they should be worn... :-)

      And thank you for your sweet comments. I appreciate them!

      Delete
  2. You, lady, have a gift. You're able to terrify me, make me fight back tears at work, and make me feel relieved all in one hilariously horrifying boob post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thank you, Amy! I'm not sure I'm gifted so much as you're pregnant and emotional.... heehee! Thank you for your kind words!

      Delete
  3. You're the bestest, Elizabeth! The whole reason I read your blog is for your honesty.
    Matthea

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    Replies
    1. Well, thank you, Matthea! I totally appreciate your reading my blog, and especially your sweet comments!

      Delete
  4. My girlfriend used cabbage leaves when she was engorged after her don was born and they helped her a lot BUT wash the cabbage leaves or wash your boobs before you nurse after you've used the cabbage leaves. Her little guy got a nasty infection and had to be hospitalized and the dr said it was from bacteria on the cabbage leaves....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lindsay, you ROCK for sharing this info. I updated the post with it; I really appreciate your sharing this information!

      Delete
  5. I had overacheiver boobs too. Most days, my babe wouldn't even have to suck. The lazy little princess would just open her pretty little mouth and the milk would just spray into her gaping maw. I kid you not. The worst was when my darling bundle would get distracted and take a look around. SQUIIIIIIRT!!!! Right in the eye!! And then across the room. It was milk madness. Sadly, we lived in an uber conservative town at the time so milk-sharing programs didn't exist. What a wretched waste. I'd cry sometimes as I poured that beautiful stuff down the drain. (Tried to give some to my cat once. He wasn't interested. That made me cry even more.)
    For these leaky boobs, only overnight maxipads would do. I'd cut one in half and slip them inside my bra. After a couple hours, they'd be soaked and I'd slip in another. So sexy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had the same over-achieving boob issues. In the beginning, my daughter would have a projectile spit-up (and hose me down with it) at least once a day because she was getting way too much, way too fast.

      Delete
    2. Aw, Samantha, you didn't freeze and store the milk?? That's on the agenda for a future post - how I managed to store 100 OUNCES of milk!!
      Yes, the milk-in-the-face/eyes thing is a little stressful. I remember just drowning the boys sometimes and they'd get super upset and wouldn't be able to latch well because my breast was so slick with milk. Fun times.

      Funny you mentioned maxi pads in your bra- that's along the lines of the title for my next breastfeeding post about nursing pads!

      Julie, oh my gosh, my boys were TOTAL pukers, I really feel you with the projectile spitting-up issue!

      Delete
  6. Great info. Sadly the info out there is misleading. I think that's why so many moms give up. All the literature out there makes it sound as if everything easy with a few hiccups with minor aches and pain along the way. It's no wonder so many women give up, when it's so painful at first. where I live there is this awesome org. called the nursing mothers counsel . they teach classes, offer tons of info, and set you up with your own counselor (a mom who's been there done that) who you can call anytime till your baby is one. And it's free.

    I wouldn't have gotten this far without it

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Than you, Vanessa, for the nursing moms counsel info, do you mind putting a link to it in the comments, or emailing me a link to motherhoodadim@gmail.com? I am also writing a post that has different breastfeeding resources and would love to include it if you don't mind!

      Delete
  7. Eating healthy food really helps our babies in getting what they really need.

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  8. Omg, I was laughing so hard reading this! I too "wore" cabbage leaves to ease pain. I had a severe case of mastitis, as in 2 months and a hospital stay, and wished someone had provided more info! I found a ton of great support on kellymom.org also. My son typically only nurses on one side also, so being lopsided is a common occurrence here....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nikki! Also, thank you for the kellymom.org info, I'll include it in another breastfeeding post I'm doing on nursing resources.
      Yeah, I had some mastitis issues, too... you'll read about them soon! It blows.

      Delete
    2. *snicker*
      I learned so much from reading about cabbage from the link below that I decided to try out kellymom -- but it turns out that what we really want is kellymom.COM, not .org; the org domain is for sale and advertises itself as such with titillating photos of women who are probably NOT lactating. (Yes, I said titillating. Ha!)
      Matthea

      Delete
    3. Matthea, thank you for letting us know that! And for your awesome use of titillating... heehee!

      Delete
  9. Fortunately, I never really had any mastitis/engorgement issues, but I was a serious "over-producer." So from time to time I got pretty uncomfortable when the 3-hour mark rolled around and I was either away from the baby (i.e. at the grocery store realizing I forgot to put pads in my bra and worrying about leaking all over my shirt) or she was taking an extra-long nap.
    ANYHOW...all I really wanted to say was that my friend got some mastitis when her daughter was weaning, and the cabbage leaves helped. Why cabbage leaves??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had no idea, either, but I found this link - it explains it!
      http://www.lactationconsultant.info/cabbagecure.html

      And you're lucky you didn't have mastitis/engorgement issues!!

      Delete
  10. I barely had engorgement issues. Barely. I always had a hard time establishing milk. Took a good 6 to 8 weeks for my boobs to get their shit together. A whole different kind of struggle, but I stuck with it and nursed 4 babies to at least a year. I do have one story where I was chatting with my aunt who was standing about a foot away and all of a sudden my left breast shot milk through my bra and shirt, into her face. Hilarious and mortifying at the same time!

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    1. OH MY GOSH your poor aunt! Well that's a bummer about having a tough time establishing milk. Did you do anything to help it along? I'm wondering if maybe a guest post about what you dealt with and how you helped improve it might be a possibility...?

      Delete
  11. Oh, my chest hurts just thinking about engorgment, and I finished nursing my youngest 2 years ago! Guess that means you did a great job explaining it.

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    Replies
    1. Ha, thanks! Yep, I know I was feeling the ghost pain while writing it!

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete

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