Engorgement while breastfeeding

Breast engorgement is when your breasts get too full of milk. This can leave them feeling hard and painful. It can also lead to breastfeeding problems if not treated.

Engorgement usually happens in the early days of feeding. This is because it can take a few days for your supply of breast milk to match what your baby needs.

It can also happen later on, for example, when you introduce solid food to your baby (weaning).


Stages of weaning

Getting help

Ask your nurse, midwife, public health nurse or lactation consultant for help if you think your breasts are engorged.

They can show you how to express a little milk by hand before a feed to soften your breast and help your baby to attach.


Expressing breast milk

Get help immediately if:

  • you begin to feel the symptoms of mastitis (fever, chills and painful or swollen breasts)
  • your baby is unable to attach to your breast
  • your baby is not having enough wet and dirty nappies

Relieving breast fullness

It is very important to breastfeed your baby very often in the early days after birth. Removing milk from the breasts relieves the fullness in the milk ducts.

This feeling of fullness usually goes away in 12 to 48 hours with regular feeds. This is where your baby is well attached and taking plenty of milk from your breast each feed.

Reduce the symptoms

Positioning and attachment may be a little difficult if your breasts are uncomfortably full or hard.

To reduce the symptoms of full or heard breasts:

  • place a warm, moist face cloth on your breast for a few minutes and hand express some milk before feeding. This can help soften your breast a little, making it easier for your baby to attach
  • use a cold, moist face cloth to reduce swelling and relieve pain (after a feed or in between feeds)
  • use reverse pressure softening - a way to soften the areola

Page last reviewed: 19 March 2019
Next review due: 19 March 2022