Lymphatic drainage massage while breastfeeding

The Nightmare Of Engorgement:  How Lymphatic Drainage Massage While Breastfeeding Helped Me 

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Meet Jessica: a dedicated Registered Nurse and proud mother of three boys! Alongside her husband Alex, they share their parenting insights on their blog, Jessica enjoys outdoor activities, gardening, reading, and quality time with her family. Read on to learn how lymphatic drainage massage while breastfeeding helped her overcome the pain of engorged breasts.

From the time I was young, I had dreamed of one day becoming a mom! Prior to fulfilling that dream, I went to school and became an RN right before getting married. My husband was also pursuing a nursing degree in hopes of furthering his education to become a Nurse Anesthesiologist.

Shortly after getting married my husband and I were both hired at the same hospital working night shifts in 2 separate units. I was working postpartum and loved being part of the beginning stages of life for new mothers! It only made me more excited, and yet terrified to become a mother. 

As part of my job, I was to help assist new mothers with breastfeeding. I worked daily with mothers sharing the tips and tricks I was taught, and helped support them in any way possible.  I saw a variety of experiences where some seemed to pick it up as if it was the easiest thing in the world, while others struggled to find coordination or pain tolerance. I began thinking there wasn’t much to it, and besides it would be a breeze for me…I had all the tips, tricks, and professional advice! Boy was I in for a rude awakening!!!

Our first son was born the same night both my husband and I had gone in for our routine shifts at work. From the beginning, breastfeeding seemed to go pretty well until after being discharged and realizing what it was like for my “milk to come in”. Talk about pain! Even with all of my nursing experience I still did not comprehend what it would feel like. Those first few days were an endurance process but I made it. The worst part however was the few months following. On more than a few occasions, I began getting what appeared to be clogged milk ducts, but only in the same breast.

For hours I would be in tremendous pain as my breasts continued to fill and harden. I was so panicky thinking it would turn into mastitis. Through much prayer, tears, and every position and frequency of feeding my son and I could manage, I was able to finally release the clogged ducts and find relief before mastitis set in. It was still a nightmare.

2 years later we got pregnant with our second son and yes I was nervous about breastfeeding. Little did I know there would be one of the greatest storms ahead. 

Our son was born with a congenital heart defect, so very soon after birth he was taken to the NICU and was unable to eat for many hours until an echo was performed and he was cleared that it was safe to eat. It was roughly 8 hours before I could feed him for the first time and I really believe this is what started my tremendous breastfeeding challenges.

My son remained in a cardiac unit at a children’s hospital for 4 days with close monitoring of his heart. It was extremely challenging to keep a good feeding schedule when he was in a different location than me. As my milk came in I began facing the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life… worse than childbirth (and I delivered totally natural with all three kids)! 

I became soooo engorged that each of my breasts competed with the size of my head. No matter what position I was in, I was in excruciating pain! Every time I fed it seemed as if letdown would occur but very little milk would release. Days went by before I finally started feeling relief. That officially was my worst nightmare!

I breastfed my second son until he was approximately a year, and it was a miracle I made it through that time without clogged ducts like my first experience. However, that year I went to great lengths to make each feed a focused event to ensure each breast was drained properly

When it came time for our third son to be born I was terrified for what the start of breastfeeding him would bring. I had been so traumatized by my former experience. The benefit this time had was that I was able to nurse my son within minutes of his birth. My hopes were high that this would make all the difference. Thankfully the first few days went relatively well but once again the dreaded stage came, my “milk coming in.” Although this 3rd round wasn’t as brutal as the 2nd, it was still a beast. I was again in tears while trying to maintain some degree of calmness and hope that it would pass. 

I was becoming frustrated as this stage didn’t seem to be an issue to many people I interacted with. Why was it that I was always so engorged postpartum? I began researching and stumbled upon the best understanding of what I was experiencing. 

The first few days after delivering a baby bring a whole slew of changes to a woman’s body, including trying to rid itself of all the excessive fluid buildup during and after delivery. What seemed to be occurring in me was that while milk was trying to flow in one direction out of my breasts, I had increased swelling and fluid throughout my lymphatic system that was trying to drain out the opposite direction through my lymph nodes, causing a major traffic jam. 

No wonder I felt as if milk was really struggling to release! I had so much swelling in my breasts and it was very apparent I needed to help the swelling before I’d see much progress with nursing. This YouTube video was a huge help in learning the best techniques to assist in lymphatic drainage: 

This knowledge came as my engorgement started to turn a corner so unfortunately I couldn’t apply this technique the whole time, but I believe it helped provide relief for the remainder of my engorgement!

I am so relieved knowing this technique as I hope it will create a much better experience with our next child. 

Amongst the pains and struggles the beginning stages have caused me, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity I have had to nurse all three of my boys! Breastfeeding is so bittersweet. It wasn’t easy and has definitely brought its challenges, but the bond and time with my boys has been priceless! 

I hope what I have learned will help in any engorgement you experience.  Know that it will pass!! There is light at the end of the tunnel and the rewards are tremendous!

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