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Help! My Boobs Are Exploding!

Woman breast feeding her baby
Photograph by Getty Images/Westend61

I’ve had a short labor, a marathon labor, and a labor that fell right in the middle. And the thing that all of them had in common was what came after—sweet babies and ginormous, engorged boobs.

Oh yes, this mama can make milk. And it’s both a blessing and a curse.

I'm the queen of engorgement. Honestly, I think it’s kind of cruel—to go through so much pain and effort giving birth only to have a whole new kind of discomfort arrive while my lady bits are still fragile. When I was pregnant with my third, I knew to anticipate engorgement in the days that followed his arrival. I braced myself because I remembered all too well what was coming. Milk… lots of milk. Yet when he arrived—and the milk with him—I was completely caught off guard.

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So I texted my smart mamas friends with desperate pleas like, “My boobs are on fire! What do I do again?” and “Does your baby want to come over and nurse?” During their own postpartum days I had received similar texts from these same gals and in response I had offered great tips. But when it was me in bed with a newborn all I could think was, “I hate this. My boobs are crazy. My baby is drowning in breast milk. Make. It. Calm. Down.”

Basically, your goal is to teach your body how much milk your baby needs.

So, those great tips? Here they are! If you’re dealing with engorgement now I send all my love and promise that if we lived in the same town I’d be dropping by with cabbage before your monster mama boobs could leak through another nursing tank.

Yes, Cabbage From the Produce Section Can Help

Wear a loose, but supportive bra or nursing tank and tuck chilled green cabbage leaves inside each cup. Leave the leaves in for 20 minutes or so, up to three times a day. Researchers haven’t pinpointed why this works, but I and many mamas I know have benefited from alleviating the pain of engorgement with cabbage. It can also decrease your milk supply too much so only use cabbage until pain and swelling is minimized.

Ignore Your Breast Pump

When you’re engorged there's a fine balance between expressing milk and just coping with what you’ve got going on. Basically, your goal is to teach your body how much milk your baby needs. It works on a supply and demand system and if you pump too much milk your body starts to think you need more milk and a vicious engorgement cycle begins. So only pump to relieve intense pain.

Hop In the Shower

Warm water can help ease pain and work out any plugged ducts that might be developing. The only thing worse than engorgement is mastitis so tend to plugged ducts immediately. Apply heat sparingly though (opt for cold water or compresses if you can) because you don’t want your body thinking that you need more milk and heat can really get the milk flowing. Do what you gotta do to stay comfortable, but tough through the full feeling for a few days.

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Nurse, Nurse, Nurse and Research Block Feeding

The easiest thing to do when you’re engorged is nurse! Go figure! Your baby’s suckling is the most efficient way to empty your breasts and nursing your little one with help synchronize your milk supply and your baby’s nourishment needs. Keep in mind, that with an abundance of milk, your baby might get a bit gassy or have other tummy problems due to consuming more foremilk than hindmilk. In that case, my first bit of advice is to research block feeding and put that nursing schedule into action.

I share all of this from my personal experience with engorgement. But I’m just one mom. Every mama and baby adjust to nursing differently and sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. If you have specific concerns or questions please, please, please reach out to a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League group. They are much more equipped to address your unique situation with personalized advice and offer you ongoing support.

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