Breast engorgement

Once your little one has arrived, you’ll notice a few changes in your body, such as your breasts filling up with milk. Breast engorgement is when your breasts feel overly full, heavy, and tight, even to the extent that they’re uncomfortable or painful. This typically happens shortly after giving birth when you start producing milk. Read on to learn all about breast engorgement: what it is, how to deal with it when your milk comes in, how to prevent it, and any treatments or relief tactics to help you cope.

What Is Breast Engorgement?

If you’re making more milk than your baby needs, your breasts can become overfilled with milk, which is known as breast engorgement. During pregnancy, your body starts producing colostrum, a thick and yellowish milk that’s full of antibodies and protein. This is the early milk that will nourish your newborn right after birth. Approximately two to four days after you’ve given birth, you’ll experience a change in your hormones and your breasts will fill with the standard white breast milk. When your hormones shift, the blood supply to your breasts increases and you make more milk; you’ll feel as if your breasts are fuller. A little fullness in the first few days is perfectly normal, but sometimes breast milk production can become excessive, leading to discomfort and possibly causing pain in your engorged breasts. If you notice your breasts are engorged, take steps to treat this as soon as possible, as engorgement could lead to blocked milk ducts or a more serious infection known as mastitis.

In Summary

Breast engorgement happens when the breasts become overly full with milk. This may happen as soon as two to four days after you’ve given birth. It’s best to seek out treatment for breast engorgement, as it could lead to blocked milk ducts or mastitis. Luckily, there are easy tactics you can do at home (more on that below).

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Engorgement?

During milk production, it’s perfectly normal to have full breasts, but you may have breast engorgement if you notice your breasts feel:

  • very full

  • hard

  • tender

  • painful or achy.

Engorged breasts can also cause a fever and flu-like symptoms, but only when suffering from a clogged milk duct that leads to mastitis.

In Summary

You may find your breasts feel very full, hard, tender, or even painful if you’re experiencing breast engorgement. Contact your healthcare provider if you have a fever or flu-like symptoms, which may be an indication of a clogged milk duct that has progressed to mastitis. 

How Can You Prevent Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement usually doesn’t occur if the breasts are emptied frequently, meaning you’re nursing approximately every two to three hours. And if you experience engorged breasts, this may go away once you and your baby settle into a regular feeding schedule. If you’re breastfeeding your baby, then severe breast engorgement may go away within 36 hours once you start nursing more. In situations when you can’t breastfeed right away, such as when you’re working or your baby is finally sleeping through the night, you can help prevent engorgement by

Emptying your breasts can help with the initial discomfort and it’s the best way to prevent engorgement.

In Summary

Nursing your baby regularly or expressing your breast milk manually or with a breast pump every two to three hours can help prevent engorgement.

RELATED ARTICLE

Newborn Feeding
How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct

How Can You Relieve Engorged Breasts?

If you’re not breastfeeding or expressing milk, then you may feel some discomfort from engorgement. But if your breasts aren’t stimulated to produce more milk, then the discomfort you feel from breast engorgement may go away gradually, usually within 7 to 10 days. You can try the following in the meantime to help with engorged breast pain relief even if you’re not breastfeeding:

  • Wear a well-fitting support bra or sports bra

  • Apply ice packs to your breasts to help reduce the swelling

  • Avoid expressing any milk if you don’t plan to continue nursing, as this will signal to your breasts to produce more milk; you may want to discuss this with a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider

  • Take an over-the-counter pain medication, like ibuprofen, if you need it, but consult your healthcare provider if you’re unsure

  • You can try a popular home remedy—placing a refrigerated, clean cabbage leaf directly on the breast, so it's held in place by a bra. The coolness combined with the shape of the cabbage leaf, which fits the shape of your breast, may help with the swelling. However, this is a home remedy that may not work for all women.

If you’re breastfeeding and still suffer from breast engorgement, in addition to some of the above tips, you may also want to try feeding your baby in more than one position.

In Summary

If you’re not breastfeeding, breast engorgement may likely go away by itself in 7 to 10 days as milk production ceases. In the meantime, you can apply ice packs for the swelling or take pain medication to help with the symptoms.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

  • It depends on whether you’re breastfeeding your baby.
    If you’re breastfeeding your baby, but they’re not nursing enough or you’re unable to breastfeed at that particular time, then pumping is a good choice to help relieve breast engorgement.
    However, if you’re not breastfeeding, then pumping your breasts may encourage more breast milk production, so it’s best you don’t pump. Engorgement may go away in about 7 to 10 days.

  • If you’re breastfeeding, breast engorgement may go away within 36 hours. If you’re not, it may take approximately 7 to 10 days.

  • Some of the symptoms of breast engorgement—like swollen, painful breasts—are also common with mastitis, which is when a blocked milk duct doesn’t drain.
    If you have mastitis, you may also notice the following:

    • flu-like symptoms
    • fever
    • aches
    • breasts feel hot to touch
    • breasts are streaked with red.

The Bottom Line

Breast engorgement can be uncomfortable, but quick treatments are readily available when you need them. Relieve and prevent engorgement by formula or breastfeeding your baby regularly, or with cool compresses until the swelling goes down. However, sometimes a blocked milk duct or mastitis can feel like breast engorgement, so if you’re in doubt, consult your healthcare provider, especially if you notice any flu-like symptoms or your breasts are hot to the touch. The good news is that the uncomfortable swelling will most likely go down, either with regular feedings or just with time. Soon your breasts will feel less heavy and achy, and you’ll have more energy to focus on your little one! In the meantime, reward yourself for any increase in diaper changes with the Pampers Club app.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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