Care Plan: Engorgement

Remember how sore and swollen your breasts were at the beginning of your pregnancy? Unfortunately, they might make a return appearance after your baby is born.

On Day 3 or 4 postpartum, when your mature milk comes in, your breasts might be extremely full, tight, painful and dripping milk. This is called engorgement. The change from colostrum to mature milk increases the flow of blood to your breasts, and the surrounding tissue starts to swell.

Not all women experience engorgement when their milk comes in. Some have milk that comes in more gradually, and their breasts just feel more heavy and full.

If you do have engorged breasts, the best cure is good, thorough drainage. Make sure you offer both breasts to your baby at each feeding.

The good news is that engorgement doesn't last very long, just 1 or 2 days at the most. But take note: If you miss several feedings at a later stage, you could experience engorgement again.

What can I do to ease engorgement?

Place warm washcloths on your breasts before feedings, and cooler washcloths or even ice packs afterward. For hundreds of years, women have sworn by cabbage leaves. Although this treatment isn't scientifically proven, there seems to be something in cabbage that reduces fluid retention. Try refrigerating a green cabbage, stripping a few of the outer leaves and putting them against your breast, inside your bra. Leave the cabbage there for no more than 20 minutes.If your breasts are so full and hard that latching is difficult for your baby, apply pressure to the areola with your fingertips before feeding. Place your fingertips around the base of your nipple and press down on the areola for about 50 seconds. This should soften the areola enough so your baby can latch.

Should I pump during engorgement?

If nursing is going well and your baby is getting full feedings at the breast and draining them, the answer is no. But there are some exceptions.

If your breasts still feel hard and engorged after every feeding, and if your baby is small or sleepy, you might want to double pump both breasts at the same time for 10 minutes after a few daily feedings; try three spread throughout the day. This is also the case for babies with any level of jaundice, since that condition can make a baby sleepy.

Here's why you should pump in these situations: If your baby shows signs she's dependent on your highly elevated flow to get full feedings, you don't want the supply to drop dramatically after the engorgement period.

Tips for success

  • The best way to cure engorgement is to breastfeed and aim for good drainage in each breast every time.
  • Engorgement only lasts 1 or 2 days. After this period, your breasts will soften and adapt to your baby's feeding needs.
  • You should only pump during engorgement if your baby is small and needs lower amounts of milk in the beginning or is very sleepy or jaundiced.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

| | Share
Sign up for the Bravado newsletter

Our Experts

Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
Learn More

Our Resource Library

Find all you need at your finger tips.
Go to Resource Library

Blog

Kara: Breastfeeding Twins
Follow Kara: Breastfeeding Twins
Read More
Jessica: Momma Gone City
Follow Jessica: Momma Gone City
Read More
Emily: DesignHER Momma
Follow Emily: DesignHER Momma
Read More
Kate: The Shopping Mama - View from a multi-tasking mama
Follow Kate: The Shopping Mama - View from a multi-tasking mama
Read More
Kathryn: Candid Insights From the Corner Office
Follow Kathryn: Candid Insights From the Corner Office
Read More


Be the first to know! Sign up to receive special offers, exclusive insider access to new products and content that supports you through pregnancy and nursing.

*First Name:
*Email Address:
*Country:
*Baby's Due/Birth Date:
*Yes, I'd like to receive your e-newsletter with offers, special
promotions, contests and insider access to new products and
breastfeeding tips.
Items marked with * are required.