What is breast engorgement?
Signs and symptoms
What causes breast engorgement during pregnancy?
After birth engorgement
Early breastfeeding is important. Although the volume of colostrum is generally small, it is nutritionally perfect for newborn babies. It can take 3 to 4 days for a mother's breasts to fill with milk. Regular, effective sucking by the baby helps a mother's breasts to produce milk.
What breast engorgement feels like
How to prevent breast engorgement
Breast engorgement is relieved when a baby feeds. For some women, offering a breastfeed only provides temporary relief.
What's important is to breastfeed as often as the baby demands. Look for your baby's cues or signals that they want to feed. Avoid following the clock or timing your baby's feeding. Healthy, well babies can give their own signals that they want and need to breastfeed.
How to relieve breast engorgement
It can take 6 to 8 weeks for a mother’s breast milk supply to be established to meet her baby's needs. Over the early weeks, a mother's hormones are stabilizing, and her baby is adjusting to feeding and digesting milk. There are a lot of complex adjustments being made.
Tips to relieve breast engorgement
- Breastfeed your baby frequently. If they are sleepy, it's alright to wake them to offer a breastfeed.
- If your baby is struggling to attach, try expressing a little breast milk first. This may help them to attach effectively to the nipple.
- Express your breasts for comfort. You could try hand expressing or using a pump.
- Use a warm washcloth on your breast when you're feeding. This may help milk to flow and for your milk to let down.
- Gently massage your breasts in a downward motion towards your nipple when your baby is feeding.
- Shower and allow the warm water to flow over your breasts. Gently massage and express your breasts.
- Wear a firm and supportive bra. Take your bra off when you are breastfeeding so there's no interruption to the flow of milk.
- Between breastfeeds, use a cold pack or cool washcloth inside your bra to help relieve breast discomfort.
- Some women find relief by fully expressing their breasts if the pressure is too uncomfortable.
Things to avoid when your breasts are engorged
- Avoid using excessive heat or cold on your breasts or nipples.
- Avoid giving your baby any formula or water to drink.
- Avoid long periods of time between feedings.
- Avoid stopping your baby from sucking when they're still eager to feed.
- Avoid being separated from your baby. It's important they are physically close to you so you can see and hear them if they need to feed.
- Avoid stopping breastfeeding when you have breast engorgement. This can lead to mastitis or a breast abscess forming.
Frequently asked questions about breast engorgement
Experiment with different attachment positions. You may be more comfortable with a football hold when your baby is breastfeeding.
Can I take medicine to help with the pain?
Speak with your provider or pharmacist about pain relief which is safe to take for breastfeeding.
The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.