Question: My five month old sleeps through the night- about a ten hour stretch – and I wake up engorged every morning. This has been happening for quite a while. Will my milk ever adjust to this or could this be just normal for me?
Answer: Most moms would love to have your problem! Having a whole ten hour sleep stretch is such a luxury, and quite unusual for a breastfed baby. I’m not surprised that you’re having trouble with engorgement, though. Most babies start sleeping through the night by gradually going longer stretches, say from 2-3 hours to 4-5 hours and then up to 6-8 hours over a period of months. The human body is amazing adaptable, and if the transition is made gradually, your breasts respond to the lack of stimulation by making less milk, so you experience less fullness.
I don’t know how long your baby has been sleeping this long at night, or how long it took to get to this point. Your body should adjust with time, but it’s impossible to say how long that will take because every mother is so different. Just as some moms leak a lot and some hardly at all, some will experience more engorgement and fullness than others.
There is really no way to prevent the engorgement or make it go away faster. Other than the fact that you’re uncomfortable, the concern would be that the engorgement could lead to plugged ducts and/or mastitis. If that were going to happen, it probably would have occurred by now.
If you feel that you are developing plugged ducts, it would be a good idea to apply heat and express some milk to relieve the pressure and unclog the ducts, but don’t pump too much – you don’t want to send your breasts the signal to make more milk.
Your body should adjust with time, but you may be one of those moms who always experiences some degree of fullness when you go long stretches without nursing. Nearly all mothers find that the longer they nurse, the softer their breasts feel and the longer they can go without becoming engorged. I hope that things settle down for you soon.
Anne Smith, IBCLC