Breasts after birth: engorgement
Breasts after birth: engorgement

Around day three or four, most women experience what’s known as ‘engorgement’, when their breasts fill – or should we say overfill – with milk, often leaving them double or even triple in size (seemingly in a matter of minutes) and rock hard. For most, this condition is only temporary, lasting no more than 48 hours, but the pain can be excruciating and breastfeeding becomes a frustrating exercise as your baby attempts to latch on to a breast that may seem the same size as her head (or bigger!).

While some lucky women (especially second-timers) don’t experience much engorgement at all, there are steps you can take to soothe the pain: 

  • Cold pads designed to fit in your bra or chilled green cabbage leaves wrapped around your breasts can provide relief 
  • Wear a supportive nursing bra around the clock 
  • Nurse every two to three hours, as uncomfortable as this may be, because engorgement will subside once a milk supply-and-demand routine is established.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends ensuring that the baby drains the first breast before offering the second. Before you nurse, you may have to soften the areola if your breasts are too firm. You can either pump (only until the area softens and the baby can latch on) or manually express in a warm shower. You may find that simply standing in the shower (avoid spraying water directly on your nipples) is enough, because the warmth can cause milk to leak out .

  • Don’t pump to relieve the pain because the more milk your body expels, the more milk your body will produce. That’s why continuing to feed your baby throughout engorgement is so important, because it establishes the amount of milk needed. 
  • If you’re in too much pain to bear and/or running a fever, talk to your doctor about taking a mild pain reliever 
  • Even those who choose not to breastfeed must suffer through engorgement. Take the above measures to relieve your pain, but do not encourage any milk production – as long as your body is releasing milk, it will continue to make milk. So don’t pump and avoid nipple stimulation and hot showers. Milk might leak out for the next week or so, but it will eventually dry up.


Find more

Breast milk supply
Breastfeeding breast care
Breastfeeding attachment 

This article was written for Kidspot, New Zealand's leading pregnancy and parenting resource from sources including the Australian Breastfeeding Association 

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