Women's Health

Women's Health

Breast engorgement

Your breasts may become swollen (engorged) with milk. This usually happens when you have more milk than your baby wants. Engorgement is painful and a big reason that many moms stop breastfeeding sooner than they had planned or wanted.

Breast fullness is normal in nursing moms. You can expect relief from the first normal engorgement within 12 to 24 hours after your baby is born (or in 1 to 5 days if you are not breast-feeding). Your symptoms should disappear within a few days. If not, or if your breasts do not soften after a feeding, start home treatment right away.

Symptoms of breast engorgement

  • Swollen, firm and painful breasts
  • Flattened nipples
  • A hard areola that makes it hard for your baby to latch on
  • A slight fever
  • Slightly swollen lymph nodes in your armpits

Severe engorgement can cause problems for you and your baby

  • Your baby may not receive enough milk.
  • Your breasts may not empty completely.
  • Your nipples may become so sore and cracked that you breast-feed less. That causes your breasts to become even more engorged.

Preventing breast engorgement

  • Breastfeed often, whenever your baby is hungry.
  • If your breasts are swollen, let out enough milk to soften your nipples before feeding your baby.
  • Empty your breasts with each feeding.
  • Make sure your baby latches on and feeds well.

Without treatment, severe engorgement can lead to blocked milk ducts and breast infection, which is called mastitis.

Engorgement can happen

  • During the first few days after birth.
  • When you normally have a regular breastfeeding routine but cannot nurse or pump as much as usual.
  • If you and your baby suddenly stop breast-feeding.
  • When your baby’s breastfeeding suddenly drops, either when your baby is starting or increasing solid foods or when your baby is ill with a poor appetite.

Relieve your symptoms

  • You can safely take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain or a fever
  • You can safely take ibuprofen (such as Advil) along with acetaminophen to reduce inflammation.
  • Apply ice or cold compresses
  • Wear a supportive nursing bra
  • Soften your breasts before feedings by:
    • Applying heat
    • Gentle massage
  • Use your hands or use a pump to let out a small amount of milk from both breasts.