Why are my breasts still engorged a week after I stopped nursing?

by Anne Smith, IBCLC

Ask Anne…

BFB Engorgement CartoonQuestion:I stopped breastfeeding a week ago. My breasts are still swollen, extremely painful and rock-hard, after seven days. How long will this last?

Answer: I don’t know any details about your weaning, but if you are still experiencing the symptoms you described after a week, then I have to assume that you stopped nursing rather abruptly rather than tapering off gradually.

If you wean “cold turkey”, you run the risk of plugged ducts and a breast infection, plus you will feel very uncomfortable when your breasts get overly full, as you have found out the hard way.

How quickly you can dry up your milk depends on how much milk you have and how often your baby was nursing when you stopped. If your baby was still nursing several times a day and you had lots of milk, it will take longer to dry up your supply than if he was only nursing once a day and your supply was already low. In that case, stopping all at once might not cause too much discomfort. The fact that you are experiencing so much pain tells me that your body is having trouble reabsorbing the milk.

I would suggest that you use cold compresses to reduce the swelling, take Advil, and wear a supportive (not tight) bra. If your breasts get knotty and hard, hand express a little milk in the shower or bath to relieve the fullness, but don’t express enough to empty them completely, because that will send your breasts the signals to produce more.

Doctors used to give mothers medication to dry up their milk, but the side effects could be more serious than the mastitis that sometimes accompanies abrupt weaning, so the drug (Parlodel) isn’t used anymore.

There is really no solution other than comfort measures and time. The roughest time is usually the first 48 hours after you stop nursing, so hopefully by now, things will be better for you. Some women dry up almost overnight, while it can take much longer for others.

The article Lactation Suppression has some tips on how to dry the breast milk up faster. I would recommend trying the sage tea and seeing how that works for you. The uncomfortable stage of fullness should not last long, but you may continue to leak or be able to express drops of milk for months or even years after you stop nursing.

If you continue to have real discomfort, swelling, or a lot of fullness, I would recommend that you talk to your doctor because (rarely) that can be a sign of a medical problem. If your breasts actually ‘hurt’ and this continues, you might have a yeast infection which would need to be treated. Symptoms of this include burning, stinging, and sharp shooting pains inside your breast.

Be sure to keep tabs on your temperature. If you continue to have breast pain and your fever goes up over 101 degrees, call your doctor, because it probably means you have a breast infection (they often accompany abrupt weaning) and you may need to take  antibiotics.

Anne Smith, IBCLC
Breastfeeding Basics

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