Relief for Breast Engorgement Pain After Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Supportive bras and ice packs may help

Photo © ballyscanlon / Getty Images

If you've just had a stillbirth, miscarriage or your baby died shortly after delivery, you may need relief from the breast engorgement pain you're experiencing. 

Women in these tragic situations may very well have their milk come in and experience the discomfort of engorgement. The helpful tips below may help you get through this period as comfortably and quickly as possible.

Supportive Undergarments and Warm Showers

Wear a supportive bra.

In the past, women were encouraged to bind their breasts tightly, but that may actually cause more discomfort and lead to plugged ducts. The best option is a well-fitted bra with plenty of support. A sports bra may be particularly comfortable for you.

In addition, try to avoid stimulating your breasts. If you haven't been pumping or breastfeeding, you may be able to get through lactation and engorgement very quickly by avoiding any stimulation. Even warm water in the shower could be enough to stimulate a let-down reflex or encourage milk production. There are products available to help support and protect your sensitive breasts in the shower, such as the Shower Hug, if you find the water pressure too intense.

Use Ice Packs

Ice packs are ideal for coping with tender breasts during the first few days postpartum. There are many unique ways of applying cold packs to your breasts, such as using small bags of frozen veggies, a damp washcloth frozen in a zipper bag or adding a small amount of rubbing alcohol to water in a zipper bag to make a flexible ice pack.

Commercial ice packs work as well.

Apply chilled cabbage leaves. This is a traditional remedy to relieve engorgement. Separate and wash the leaves from a head of cabbage. Keep them in the refrigerator. Break off the stems and crush the leaves lightly in your hands just before applying them to your breasts.

Don’t cover your nipples, but you can apply the leaves all over the rest of your breasts. Change them every 30 minutes or earlier if they don’t feel cool anymore.

Medications May Help

Talk to your doctor about medications. There are some medications that have been found to be effective in suppressing lactation, but most physicians and midwives recommend trying non-pharmacologic techniques first. 

Express Some Milk and Reduce Pumping 

If you are feeling very engorged and uncomfortable, it’s okay to let a little milk out. It may be the only way to ease the feeling of fullness. Unless you’ve already established breastfeeding or pumping prior to your baby’s death, you’ll probably get enough relief through hand expression.

If you were already feeding or pumping when your baby died, it will be more difficult to taper your milk supply, but it is possible. The best way is to reduce the length of your pumping sessions -- for example, cut down from 30 to 20 minutes. Then try to go longer between pumping sessions.

Each day, cut down on the length of your pumping sessions, and go long between. After five to seven days, you will probably only need to pump long enough to relieve your discomfort.

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