Everything You Need To Know About Breast Engorgement

Everything You Need To Know About Breast Engorgement

When your milk comes in, you know it!

But sometimes, you can experience extreme fullness, discomfort, and even pain that goes beyond the need to express and empty.

It’s called engorgement and it happens to all breastfeeding mommies at one point or another. 

I learned about it from a nursing coworker, far before my own time as a mom.

I’ll never forget the numerous times she’d huff and puff throughout the day, and how she was literally on the verge of tears as we were eating our lunch together because she said her breasts felt like solid boulders.

A phone call later, she learned she was engorged and could possibly have a blocked duct (I had no idea that could even happen), so she would need medical attention.

Luckily, she got it taken care of right away, and her nursing schedule wasn’t disrupted too much.

It’s important to recognize the signs or engorgement and understand how to manage it so your baby can continue to nurse successfully and so you get relief!

My friend’s health ordeal really opened my eyes to how important it is to get problems addressed immediately!

If you’re a first time mom and new to the concept of breastfeeding, read on to learn everything there is to know about breast engorgement.

What Is Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement is a term that suggests your breasts are too full of milk. 

It’s painful and it happens when your body starts to make way more milk that what you need.

The good news is that it can be treated at home, and isn’t life threatening.

However, it is important you address it right away because it could lead to an infection or a blocked milk duct.

How Does Breast Engorgement Happen?

If you're engorged, your breasts will get very firm and swollen. When your breasts “tense” up like this, it makes nursing very difficult. 

You can experience engorgement when your milk starts to come in, just a few days after birth (after the Colostrum comes in)

You may also notice that you’re engorged when you stray from your regular nursing routine and can’t get to a pump or to your baby to express your supply. This happens to a lot of new moms when they head out for a night on the town for the first time!

You may also get engorged if you stop breastfeeding suddenly due to the fact that your baby is starting solids, or you simply don’t have the desire to nurse any longer. This is why doctors urge you to wean your baby off the breast, rather than go cold turkey.

The final reason you may experience breast engorgement is if your baby nurses, but doesn’t drink enough to fully empty your breast.

If this is the case, you should discuss it with your pediatrician, who will want to monitor your baby’s weight. This will be your prime indicator that engorgement could occur if you still leave a lot of milk behind.

How Can I Tell If My Breasts Are Engorged?

There are some signs and symptoms that set breast engorgement apart from typical breast tenderness. Look out for the following:

  • 1
    Fever. Most women who experience engorgement note that they run a fever around 100.4 degrees. So, you may feel a bit warmer and more flushed than usual, or you may notice you’re breaking out in a sweat.
  • 2
    Swollen nodes. Your lymph nodes in your armpits will be very sensitive and swollen. You’ll feel uncomfortable when wearing a bra or a tight fitting shirt. It will make it difficult to hold and lift heavier things (including your baby) as well.
  • 3
    Flat nipples. Your nipples will start to flatten out when you get engorged. It may also make your areolas hard, which isn’t prime feeding conditions for your baby. This may cause them not to latch on, which leads to not being able to eat and drain your supply.
  • 4
    Pain. Normally, you shouldn’t be in pain when you’re filling up. It may feel a bit uncomfortable from time to time, or slightly tingly, which signals it’s time to nurse or pump. But, when your breasts swell and they start to get rock hard, shiny, lumpy, and/or hot, you’re dealing with engorgement. 

How Long Does It Last?

Engorgement can last for a few days if you don't breastfeed (or if you’re unable to).

When your breasts aren’t stimulated, they won’t make milk. It’s that simple.

But, at this time, you can’t dry up your supply and prevent engorgement.

However, you can deal with it as you wait it out in some different ways. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always contact your local lactation consultant, who will reach out to you since there’s someone in every community that lends support.

You should call the doctor right away when you experience severe pain, and if the pain lasts for more than a few days after touching base with a medical professional, it’s time to make an office appointment and get checked out!

Can I Still Feed My Baby?

When you’re engorged, it can be very difficult to feed your baby for a few reasons. First, the engorgement may make your nipples crack (or even bleed), so that will not be conducive to nursing.

Engorgement may also not give your baby enough milk, and if your breasts don’t empty completely, your milk ducts may become blocked.

This leads to more pain and an infection that needs to be treated with an antibiotic.

You should definitely try to encourage feeding, but depending on how engorged you are, you may not get too far. This is why you can turn to some of the tips below to prevent and relieve engorgement symptoms.

6 Tips For Relieving Breast Engorgement

Breast engorgement can be relieved in a few ways. Here are six tips:

  • 1
    Nurse more often. When you keep empty, you can’t really get engorged! Stick to an on demand schedule when your baby first comes home from the hospital until you can get on a regular schedule (which is usually every few hours).
  • 2
    Reduce pain. Advil or Motrin is great to reduce any pain or swelling you may experience. It helps you get through the next feeding more comfortably.
  • 3
    Soften up. If your breasts feel rock hard, before you feed, place a warm compress on them. You could also let just a small amount of milk out by positioning your hands or a manual pump on one or both breasts. This pain reliever helps your body feel calmer and more at ease.
  • 4
    Go cold. After you nurse, if you still feel pain and discomfort, consider putting a frozen towel, a bag of frozen veggies, or ice pack on your chest. While it may be tough, keep it on for 15 minutes or so, every hour on the dot. While some moms prefer to go full on skin to skin, a thin dish rag or paper towel may help avoid any damage to your skin from the cold.
  • 5
    Get a new bra. Always wear a bra that is highly supportive and that fits well. This keeps you comfortable and perfectly positioned. 
  • 6
    Make sure you're empty. Your breasts should be empty to avoid becoming engorged. Be sure to fully make sure you are empty on one side before you switch over to the other.

How Do You Know Your Breasts Are Empty?

Knowing when your breasts are empty is one of the biggest indicators of if you may end up engorged or not, and this can be confusing to new moms.

Be sure that your baby is no longer able to be heard swallowing anything.

Also, you may notice that your baby slows down as they are feeding or completely stops. At this point, you should be ok to switch to the other breast.

Use your baby as a guide. If they are hungry, they will let you know that they need more milk and will remove themselves from the breast in order to move to the other!

Wrapping Up

Breast engorgement is not fun, but it does happen to everyone from time to time.

Be sure you understand its root cause, but also how to prevent it and relieve your symptoms if it does happen!


Hi there, I'm Kate! I started Maternity Glow to be a place for new and expecting moms to come to for practical pregnancy advice, parenting tips, and baby care tricks.

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