What is Breast Engorgement?

Autumn Rivers

Breast engorgement occurs when a breastfeeding mother's breasts become overfull with milk. This commonly happens the first few days after the birth of a baby since the body produces more milk than is necessary, but it can also happen anytime that a breastfeeding session is skipped. The symptoms typically include firm, swollen breasts that ache, often along with sore armpits and flattened nipples. Women can usually prevent this issue by feeding the baby regularly, and ensuring that the breasts are emptied at each feeding. Women can treat breast engorgement by taking ibuprofen, applying cold or warm compresses, and wearing a supportive bra.

Ibuprofen can be used to treat breast engorgement.
Ibuprofen can be used to treat breast engorgement.

The first instance of breast engorgement typically happens to mothers a few days after the birth of a new baby. Since the body does not know how much milk to produce, it tends to make more than is necessary, and will balance out within days since it should note how much the baby eats. Some women who have already established a breastfeeding routine might find that their breasts become engorged when they miss a feeding, which is why they need to either pump milk out with a breast pump, or hand express milk until they feel less full. Women can also experience breast engorgement when their baby is not getting enough milk at each feeding, or when they are trying to stop breastfeeding altogether.

Warm compresses tend to be very helpful in easing breastfeeding problems.
Warm compresses tend to be very helpful in easing breastfeeding problems.

Fortunately, preventing breast engorgement is usually as easy as letting milk out of the breasts. This usually involves feeding more often or for longer periods of time. If the baby does not eat as often or as much as before due to supplementation with formula or solid foods, the body should compensate gradually by reducing breast milk production. In this case, the mother will likely be relieved of the engorgement within a few days, when the body gets the idea that it should produce less new breast milk. The process can also usually be reversed, as the mother can nurse more often if she wants to make more milk since the body tends to notice the cues within days.

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Feeding more often can help relieve breast engorgement.
Feeding more often can help relieve breast engorgement.

Mothers experiencing breast engorgement directly after the birth of a new baby are encouraged to wait it out and just breastfeed as often as the baby wants, as the discomfort should subside within a few days. During this time period, women can take ibuprofen and place cold or warm compresses on the breasts, though it should be noted that heat often results in the release of milk. Of course, expressing a little milk by hand or with a breast pump, especially after applying heat, can also help relieve discomfort. Mothers who do not want to breastfeed at all should avoid expressing any milk, and should place cold compresses on the breasts. Whether a woman wants to continue breastfeeding or not, she is encouraged to wear a supportive bra to help reduce the symptoms of breast engorgement.

Breast engorgement is a common ailment for mothers, but is easily prevented by expressing milk from the breasts regularly.
Breast engorgement is a common ailment for mothers, but is easily prevented by expressing milk from the breasts regularly.
Ice packs temporarily relieve the pain associated with breast engorgement.
Ice packs temporarily relieve the pain associated with breast engorgement.

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