Breast fullness is a temporarily increased (exceeding newborn baby's needs) milk production.
In majority of women breast fullness occurs on 2–4 day after the birth (sometimes later) and is a response to baby's suckling. This means your lactation is at its peak. Some women hardly feel any discomfort caused by breast fullness; they can only feel their breasts are fuller than before. In other women, their breasts are much larger, swollen, heavy and tender. Increased milk production is a physiological condition; it is not accompanied by fever or shivering. The breasts should not hurt, although they are swollen. However, during breast fullness a risk of milk stasis is high if the baby empties the breast rarely or too shallowly, and then the breast fullness is accompanied by mum's bad mood and breast pain. Fortunately, with correct management, breast fullness does not have to be a problem and passes quickly, in some cases, nearly unnoticed.
Breast fullness is a natural condition accompanying the beginning of lactation. Increased milk production is caused by hormonal changes (increased prolactin levels), occurring in the body after the birth. Breast blood flow and the volume of lymphatic liquids increase. The milk changes as well: from the initial milk, called colostrum, to the intermediate milk that is much thinner (it seems to be watery but it is fully valuable), so it fills the breasts more. When the lactation is stabilized, the intermediate milk is replaced with mature milk, and the breasts stop to produce milk in excess. But before this happens, you must get through breast fullness (although it may pass unnoticed).
What you can do
Correct management of overfilled breasts is very important. It helps to avoid breast swelling and painful local stases that may lead to mastitis. This is an optimum action plan for the breast fullness period:
Latch the baby on the breast as often as possible and let him suck long to empty it correctly. Start the next feeding with the other breast.
Make sure the baby grasps the breast correctly (deeply) - the nipple with a large part of areola. Read the chapter: How to latch the baby on correctly)
During the breast fullness the breasts can be so swollen that it may be difficult for the baby to grasp them (the nipple almost disappears in the swollen areola). To help the baby you can extract some milk before feeding, but really a very small amount, so the areola is not so tightly stretched. By extracting large amounts of milk you will further stimulate its production.
When the baby does not demand feeding for a very long time, wake him up and patiently encourage (you should feed at least 8 times a day, and during the breast fullness even more often). Here are the methods to wake the little sleepyhead: rub the baby's lips with your nipple, tickle his cheek or heels, talk tenderly, or change his diaper.
During breast fullness milk usually flows from the breasts (even between feedings) and often when the baby additionally stimulates them with suckling, milk spurts out like a fountain drenching the baby. When milk flows too fast, it can be unpleasant for the baby (he can choke, or does not swallow fast enough); furthermore, it often causes problems with the belly and "shallower" breast grasp. Tips on coping with these problems can be found in the chapter Milk flowing too fast.
However, if the breasts are swollen and painful, probably the milk flow is difficult. To facilitate milk flow, apply warm compresses before feeding (place a warm diaper or a special gel compress on your breast) and delicately stroke the breast towards the nipple during breastfeeding. After breastfeeding, put a cold compress on your breast. Cooled and slightly crushed white cabbage leaves are very helpful. Wash your breast after a cabbage compress, before you give it to the baby (see more in Milk stasis).
Wear a comfortable bra, providing a good support for breasts, but not too tight, so it does not press on swollen milk ducts.
Breastfeed in different positions. The underarm position is particularly helpful (see Breastfeeding positions).
Do not limit liquids, this does not reduce lactation.
When excessive milk production is too large, and the baby sucks poorly despite all your efforts, extract milk, but only until you feel a relief. You can also drink sage or mint infusions, as these herbs stop lactation.
Is breastfeeding still possible?
Absolutely! Breastfeed as much as you wish! Now the baby should suck often and for long.
Breast fullness is a natural lactation stage, proving that your breasts can provide as much milk for your baby as he needs.
Maybe you are tired of this situation, with streams of milk pouring out, drenching the baby and your clothes, and your breasts swollen, heavy and tight. Maybe you feel unwell, and worry about milk stasis, pain and problems with breastfeeding. You should try to think about the future, because the breast fullness will end soon, while you will continue to enjoy breastfeeding, proud that you succeeded.