Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Breast Engorgement

on February 2, 2015

What is engorgement?  After you give birth, your body produces the early milk called colostrum which provides your baby with all the nourishment he needs plus important antibodies and other protective factors.  Sometime between the second and sixth day, your body will begin to produce mature milk.  Some women experience such fullness in the breasts that it makes their breasts feel hard and painfully full.  This is engorgement.  This fullness is due to additional blood and fluid travelling to the breasts as your body is preparing to produce milk as well as the actual volume of milk itself.  Some degree of breast engorgement is normal. Usually the fullness subsides within 12-48 hours.



Engorgement can make the nipples flatten due to the fullness of the breast and make it difficult for the baby to latch on to the breast.  Mothers may experience pain in the breasts due to the fullness.

You can minimize the effects of engorgement by doing the following:

  • Nurse frequently, at least 8-12 times or more a day. Offer both breasts. A newborn should be nursing on each breast at least every two to three hours.  Remember to breastfeed as often as your baby indicates the need.
  • Engage in skin-to-skin contact with your baby.
  • Gentle Breast Massage – with the palm of your hand and starting from the top of your chest (just below your collar bone), gently stroke the breast downward in a circular motion, toward the nipple. This may be more effective when done while you are in the shower or while leaning over a basin of warm water and splashing water over your breasts.
  • Warm Compresses – Some mothers find that applying a warm, moist compress and expressing some milk just before feedings helps to relieve engorgement. Using heat for too long will increase swelling and inflammation, so keep it brief. Cold compresses can be used in between to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
  • Cabbage Leaf Compresses – Rinse the inner leaves of a head of green cabbage. They can be used refrigerated (best) or at room temperature. Between feedings, drape leaves directly over breasts. Change when the leaves become wilted or every two hours. Some authorities suggest twice a day for 20 minutes for a day or two.  Discontinue use if rash or other signs of allergy occur or when the swelling starts to go down.
  • Engorgement can cause the dark area around the nipple, the areola, to become hard and swollen. This can be a problem if the fullness makes it difficult for baby to latch on. A technique that can help is reverse pressure softening. Reverse Pressure Softening softens the areola to make latching and removing milk easier. It is not the same as hand expression. For complete instructions and illustrations click here.

download (18)


Contact your La Leche League Leader, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or health care provider immediately if:

  • Engorgement is not relieved by any of the above comfort measures.
  • You begin experiencing symptoms of mastitis: fever of greater than 100.6°F (38.1°C), red/painful/swollen breast(s), chills, “flu-like” symptoms.
  • Your baby is unable to latch on to your breast.
  • Your baby is not having enough wet and dirty diapers.

Engorgement of your breasts can seem to you like a huge complication at the time.  It’s a little bump in the road and is very time-limited to a few days.  You can take action to help yourself through this temporary hurdle and continue to enjoy breastfeeding your baby.


If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally






Your Comments are Welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: