Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement occurs when breasts become uncomfortably full of milk. Engorgement may cause the nipples to flatten and slow the flow of milk, making it hard for an infant to latch on to the breast and feed.

Primary breast engorgement most often occurs in the first few days after delivery, when breast-feeding may be irregular. Secondary engorgement may occur when the mother is unable to breast-feed, cannot pump her breasts, or must stop breast-feeding suddenly. Working women who have difficulty scheduling regular feedings or times to pump may have problems with secondary breast engorgement. Secondary engorgement can be relieved by pumping or breast-feeding. Feeding or expressing breast milk will also help relieve primary engorgement.

Relieving breast engorgement

To promote milk flow and relieve discomfort, warm your breasts by taking a shower or by placing a warm, wet towel on your breast before breast-feeding. Pump or hand express enough milk to soften the nipple and areola so your baby can latch on more easily. Doing this will help your baby to empty your breasts and relieve your engorgement.

Wearing a supportive and comfortable bra may also help, and applying cold compresses to your breasts after breast-feeding may reduce swelling and pain.

Engorgement that does not improve can lead to more serious problems, such as blocked milk ducts or even a breast infection (mastitis).

For more information, see the topic Breast Engorgement.

Last Updated: May 4, 2009

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