All About Engorgement

Causes and solutions to this breastfeeding problem.

How to Avoid Breast Engorgement

    Frequently Asked Questions:

      Why do my breasts hurt so much?

      During the days that your milk comes in (usually starting three or four days after the birth), it's as if your body is throwing a dinner party for baby, and just to be sure she doesn't go hungry, is making enough for three! All that extra milk filling your breasts makes them feel full, even rock-hard. It's normal and fortunately, temporary.

        This makes me scared to breastfeed!

        Avoiding breastfeeding is the worst thing you can do. Nursing drains milk from your breasts, giving them relief. It also signals to your body exactly how much milk your baby actually needs, so your body adjusts the supply accordingly. If you skip feedings because you're afraid it will hurt, in the short term your breasts will just well up more, and in the long term you could hurt your milk production.

          How can I find relief?

          By nursing more! Or, if your baby can't help you out enough, pump your breasts until they feel better. You can also use a cool compress, which reduces swelling, or take a warm shower, which can trigger letdown and let you wash away some extra milk.

            How long will this last?

            Typically engorgement only lasts a week or so, so hang in there. By about six weeks, your breasts may no longer even feel full when it's time for a nursing session. Don't worry -- the kind of fullness you feel in the beginning doesn't last, and your body is still making plenty of milk even if it doesn't feel that way.

              7 Means of Relief

              It should only last for the first week or so, but engorgement can be painful for some women. A few tried-and-true remedies:

              1. Nurse! It drains milk from your breasts and sets your milk production on the right schedule. You should breastfeed a newborn about every two hours around the clock, but sometimes infants need more frequent feedings. (And sometimes they'll sleep for a four-hour stretch, which you can allow at night but should never allow during the day. Wake your baby up and feed him, for his sake and the sake of your swelling breasts!)

              2. Take a warm shower. This triggers letdown and releases some of the extra milk your body is making. Of course, washing your milk down the drain may seem like a bit of a waste, which is why you can...

              3. Pump. Drain a half-ounce before a feeding, and it will be easier for your baby to latch on. Then after your baby is finished, you can pump extra breast milk and store it in the freezer.

              4. Keep nursing pads in the freezer. When you put them in your bra, the coolness will work as a compress to gently relieve swelling until your next feeding.

              5. Wear wireless bras. An underwire will increase breast discomfort if you're engorged. Soft cotton nursing bras or ones made of stretchy material are better bets for now and for as long as you're breastfeeding.

              6. Try putting cold cabbage leaves in your bra. This simple remedy really works! Because cabbage has such a high water content, it stays cool between nursing sessions and makes a great cool compress. Just keep a head of cabbage in your fridge or freezer, and after feeding, pull off two leaves -- they're conveniently breast-shaped! Wear them in front of or behind nursing pads, whichever works better.

              7. Lie on your tummy. For some women, lying down on their engorged breasts is too painful. But for others, the light pressure eases soreness.

              Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; La Leche League

              All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.