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, such as blocked ducts.
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).
Ask your midwife, nurse, public health nurse (PHN) 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. This can soften your breast and help your baby to attach. It is important to remove milk from your breasts so you can avoid blocked ducts.
Encourage your baby to breastfeed at any time by keeping them close to your breasts. They can even feed while they are in a light sleep. This will relieve engorgement while providing the milk your baby needs.
Urgent advice: Get help from your PHN, midwife, lactation consultant, GP or ED immediately if:
- your baby is unable to attach to your breast
- your baby is not having enough wet and dirty nappies
- you begin to feel the symptoms of mastitis (fever, chills and painful or swollen breasts)
Relieving breast fullness
It is 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 hard 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.