Holy Cow! Engorgement is a nightmare! Stop reading now if you know me personally and don't want to know intimate details of my breasts... seriously....
So when I was about mid-way through my pregnancy, a friend with a 3-4 month old child at the time gave me some great advice. She told me that she'd focused so much on reading up about pregnancy, labor, and delivery that she sorta forgot to read about what happens afterwards -- child rearing and all of the pieces that entails like breastfeeding, sleeping, etc. She recommended I not follow her footsteps and do a little reading about what was to come.
Did I follow that advice? NAH. Why? I was so engrossed in my pre-motherhood life and my green principles and my goals for a natural pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I really just didn't recognize how important her advice was.
And while in the hospital on days 0, 1, and 2, the early parenting thing was so straight forward, I thought I had time before things would get hard. I mean, nursing went well from the first moment (the lactation consultant called us "the best pair for nursing in the unit right now!"), Ben was a rock star diaper changer, we were getting a fair amount of sleep, eating well ourselves, fought off the crazy pediatrician... what could possibly go wrong in the first 24 hours home?
Oh... you mean day 3 and 4? THOSE first 24 hours at home? The days where engorgement is likely to bite every mother in the *ss??? And who had done no reading about it and didn't know what to do? ME!
So. For those of you who aren't yet mothers or maybe didn't have to deal with engorgement during your first child's life or something, engorgement is when you're finished producing colostrum and your milk comes in. For me, it happened on Friday night, 12 hours after getting home from the hospital (aka, the land where nursing was easy), and coincidentally, while Ben was at work. His mom had come to stay with me for the first 24 hours so that he could work and I'd be taken care of.
So we were nursing right along and everything was fine... and then all of a sudden, my breasts were literally the size of watermelons. I thought they might explode. And I knew that there was something I was supposed to be able to do about it, but I couldn't figure out what. So my post-partum emotions just made me cry... not necessarily helpful. My right side (while huge) was not as bad as the left, so Olivia still latched on fine and could feed. But she and I could not make the left side happen for the world. It was too engorged, to firm, and she couldn't get latched. And my crying didn't help because it just made her cry.
I'd read and listened to a lot of sources that said one should not pump early on, because you don't want to teach your body to make more milk than your child needs, or it can make things worse. But I couldn't figure out what else to do. And Ben's mom was really interested in me pumping. Unfortunately, the pump wasn't cleaned/sanitized, so I couldn't do it until Ben got home... hours later... after much crying... and yelling at my poor mother-in-law (who took it in stride, I might say!).
I did end up pumping on the left and feeding on the right through the next 12-18 hours while I figured things out. I knew it wasn't the "ideal" situation, but it was how I could survive through the night and I didn't know what else to do.
The next day, once calm enough to actually do a functional google search, I learned about Reverse Pressure Softening, which was really my saving grace through the rest of the weekend. I made a call on Saturday to the lactation consultants at Mt Auburn who also supported my choice to use RPS and to stop pumping. And by Monday, we didn't even need the RPS! We'd made it through! Later, my midwife asked me if I'd tried cabbage, which I hadn't. But I guess it would be the next solution on my 'to-try' list if this ever happens again...