Treatments for breast engorgement during lactation (Cochrane Review)


Snowden HM, Renfrew MJ, Woolridge MW




Cochrane Database Syst Rev


BACKGROUND: National surveys have shown that painful breasts are the second most common reason for giving up breastfeeding in the first two weeks after birth in the UK. One factor contributing to such pain can be breast engorgement. Views differ as to how engorgement arises, although restrictive feeding patterns in hospital are likely to have contributed in the past. These differing views are reflected in the range of solutions offered to treat engorgement in breastfeeding mothers and these treatments are assessed in this review. OBJECTIVES: To determine the effects of any proposed intervention to relieve symptoms of breast engorgement among breastfeeding women. SEARCH STRATEGY: The register of clinical trials maintained and updated by the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group. CINAHL and MEDLINE were also searched. Date of last search: December 2000. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised and 'quasi-randomised' controlled trials, with or without blinding, that assess the effectiveness of treatments for the alleviation of symptoms in breastfeeding women experiencing engorgement. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted by one reviewer and verified by a second reviewer. MAIN RESULTS: Eight trials, involving 424 women, were included. Three different studies were identified which used cabbage leaves or cabbage leaf extracts;. no overall benefit was found. Ultrasound treatment and placebo were equally effective. Use of Danzen (an anti-inflammatory agent) significantly improved the total symptoms of engorgement when compared to placebo (odds ratio (OR) 3.6, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.3 - 10.3) as did bromelain/trypsin complex (OR 8.02, 95% CI 2.8-23.3). Oxytocin and cold packs had no demonstrable effect on engorgement symptoms. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Cabbage leaves and gel packs were equally effective in the treatment of engorgement. Since both cabbage extract and placebo cream were equally effective, the alleviation in symptoms may be brought about by other factors, such as breast massage. Ultrasound treatment is equally effective with or without the ultra-wave emitting crystal, therefore its effectiveness is more likely to be due to the effect of radiant heat or massage. Pharmacologically, oxytocin was not an effective engorgement treatment while Danzen and bromelain/trypsin complex significantly improved the symptoms of engorgement. Initial prevention of breast engorgement should remain the key priority.