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Breast Engorgement - Overview

What is breast engorgement, and what causes it?

Breast engorgement means your breasts are painfully overfull of milk. This usually occurs when a mother makes more milk than her baby uses. Your breasts may become firm and swollen, which can make it hard for your baby to breast-feed. Engorged breasts can be treated at home.

Engorgement may happen:

  • When your milk first comes in, during the first few days after birth.
  • When you have a regular breast-feeding routine but can't nurse or pump as much as usual.
  • If you suddenly stop breast-feeding.
  • When your baby suddenly starts breast-feeding less than usual. This may happen when your baby is starting or increasing solid foods or when your baby is ill and has a poor appetite.

Your breasts start making milk about 2 to 5 days after your baby is born. (Before that, they make colostrum, which contains important nutrients that your baby needs right after birth.) It's normal for your breasts to feel heavy, warm, and swollen when your milk "comes in." This early breast fullness is from the milk you make and extra blood and fluids in your breasts. Your body uses the extra fluids to make more breast milk for your baby.

This normal breast fullness will probably go away in a few days as you breast-feed and your body adjusts to your baby's needs. Your breasts may become painfully engorged if you aren't breast-feeding your baby often or if the feedings don't empty your breasts.

Your breasts will be engorged for several days if you don't or can't breast-feed after your baby is born. This will gradually go away if your breasts are not stimulated to make milk. At present, there is no approved medicine to "dry up" your milk supply and prevent engorgement.

If you have any concerns or questions, you can work with a lactation consultant. This is someone who helps mothers learn to breast-feed.

What are common symptoms?

Symptoms of engorged breasts include:

  • Swollen, firm, and painful breasts. If the breasts are severely engorged, they are very swollen, hard, shiny, warm, and slightly lumpy to the touch.
  • Flattened nipples. The dark area around the nipple, the areola, may be very firm. This makes it hard for your baby to latch on.
  • A slight fever of around 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Slightly swollen and tender lymph nodes in your armpits.
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