Breast Engorgement - Topic Overview
What is breast engorgement, and what causes it?
Breast engorgement is the painful overfilling of the breasts with milk. This is
usually caused by an imbalance between milk supply and infant demand. This
condition is a common reason that mothers stop breast-feeding sooner than they
Engorgement can happen:
- When milk first "comes in" to your breasts,
during the first few days after birth.
- When you normally have a
regular breast-feeding routine but cannot nurse or pump as much as
- If you and your baby suddenly stop
- When your baby's breast-feeding suddenly drops,
either when your baby is starting or increasing solid foods or when the baby is
ill with a poor appetite.
As you get close to your due date, your breasts make colostrum. Colostrum is a yellowish liquid that contains important nutrients and antibodies that a baby needs right after birth. About 2 to 5 days after your baby is born, your breasts start making milk for your baby. When your milk comes in, your breasts will most
likely feel warm and heavy. Some women feel only slight swelling. Others feel
Early breast fullness is completely
normal. It occurs as your milk supply develops and while your newborn has an
irregular breast-feeding routine. The normal fullness is caused by 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.
If you don't
breast-feed after your baby is born, you will have several days of mild to
moderate breast engorgement. This gradually goes away when the breasts are not
stimulated to make more milk.
Overfilled breasts can easily become
very swollen and painful, leading to severe engorgement.
Common causes of severe engorgement are:
- Waiting too long to begin breast-feeding your
- Not feeding often enough.
- Small feedings that
do not empty the breast well. Babies who are fed formula or water are less
likely to breast-feed well.
Severe engorgement can make it difficult for your baby
to latch on to the breast properly and feed well. This can make the problem
worse. As a result:
- Your baby may not receive enough
- Your breasts may not empty completely.
nipples may become sore and cracked. This is caused by your baby's attempts to
latch on to your overfull breasts. If you then breast-feed less because your
nipples are sore, the engorgement will increase.
Without treatment, severe engorgement can lead to blocked
milk ducts and breast infection, which is called
What are common symptoms of breast engorgement?
- Are swollen, firm, and painful. If severely
engorged, they are very swollen, hard, shiny, warm, and slightly lumpy to the
- May have flattened-out nipples. The dark area around the
nipple, called the
areola, may be very hard. This makes it difficult for
your baby to latch on.
- Can cause a slight fever of around
- Can cause slightly swollen and tender
lymph nodes in your armpits.
How can you prevent breast engorgement?