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Engorgement and How to Handle It

Updated: Nov 2, 2023



Engorgement is a normal part of the milk production process, but if ignored, it can cause issues with your nursing journey.

You expect your breasts to change during pregnancy. Also, if you nurse, they will change.

Engorgement is one of the most significant—and surprising—changes.


Engorgement: What Is It and Why Does It Occur?

Engorgement is a term used in the breastfeeding community to describe when your breasts become too full of milk.

Breast enlargement occurs commonly during the early stages of breastfeeding. Your breasts begin producing milk long before your baby arrives. (It starts as early as 16 weeks!) But this isn't the abundant mature milk that most mothers imagine when they think of breastfeeding. Colostrum is a sticky, gold substance that is ideally formed for babies in little amounts.

After you've delivered your baby, your body is given permission to begin producing milk. While colostrum is ready for your infant right away, mature milk takes 2-5 days to arrive.

(This timeframe varies from mother to mother; mothers who have had c-sections may experience a milk delay.)

Milk may come in gradually for some mothers, but for others, particularly first-time mothers, the advent of mature milk is marked by breast fullness, heaviness, warmth, and leaking milk.

You may also notice that:

  • Your breasts may also feel hard—some moms describe their breasts as being as hard as a rock.

  • Your skin appears and feels stretched or shiny.

  • Your breasts throb or pain.

  • Your nipple flattens and your areola feels taut or stiff.

How long does it last?

Engorgement is common, but it's uncomfortable for moms and can make nursing more difficult for newborns depending on how engorged your breasts get.

If a mother intends to exclusively breastfeed and is able to start breastfeeding immediately away, early engorgement will be brief—if at all. Keep in mind that not all mothers become engorged when their milk arrives. Those who do, on the other hand, usually only have engorgement for 12 to 48 hours after their milk arrives.


Engorgement Doesn't Have to Happen When Your Milk Arrives.

Engorgement doesn't have to happen when your milk arrives. It can happen as a mother's milk supply grows. It takes time for hormones to adjust and supply and demand nursing to balance out during the first 6-12 weeks of breastfeeding. As a result, your body may overestimate the amount of milk your baby requires, resulting in engorgement.

Engorgement, on the other hand, can occur whenever your breasts are overfilled with milk.

These circumstances could be brought on by:

  • Missing or skipping a feeding or pumping session.

  • Clogged Milk ducts.

  • Weaning

  • Mastitis

  • Oversupply (also known as hyperlactation).

What are the strategies for dealing with engorgement?

Nursing or expressing milk frequently is the greatest strategy to avoid engorgement. There are, however, a handful of elements that come into play.

  • You can produce an oversupply if you nurse or pump too much in response to engorgement.

  • However, if you don't nurse or pump enough, your milk supply will suffer.

  • Engorgement left untreated might result in clogged ducts and mastitis.

So, how can you strike a balance between relieving engorgement while also protecting your milk supply and avoiding other nursing issues? The following suggestions may be useful:

  • Feeding the baby

  • Feed your baby frequently and on demand. Aim for 8 to 12 feedings per day.

  • Don't limit your baby's breast-feeding time.

  • If your breasts are full and you feel unpleasant, wake your baby for a feed. This is especially crucial at night because little babies require evening feedings and neglecting them can reduce your milk supply.

  • Make sure your infant is properly latched and positioned to drain all of the milk from your breasts.

Taking care of engorgement discomfort

When coping with engorgement discomfort, realize that with management, you will feel much better soon!

Begin by using the following suggestions to manage your symptoms:

  • Breast massage might assist to improve circulation and milk flow in your breasts. This can be done both before and after nursing.

  • For comfort and to promote milk flow, apply a warm, damp compress to your breasts or take a warm shower.

  • Before breastfeeding, hand express a small bit of milk to make it easier for your baby to latch.

  • Avoid wearing restrictive clothing and a bra.

  • To relieve inflammation, apply a cold compress or a chilled cabbage leaf to your breast.

  • You can express milk after a feed if your breasts still feel full. However, consult with an IBCLC to determine the best method for avoiding oversupply.

Breastfeeding engorgement is usually a transitory problem, but it's crucial to know how to deal with it effectively. To learn ideas and strategies for making you and your baby more comfortable, schedule a convenient video consultation with an IBCLC.

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