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Breast Engorgement - Topic Overview

Engorged breasts:

  • Are swollen, firm, and painful. If severely engorged, they are very swollen, hard, shiny, warm, and slightly lumpy to the touch.
  • 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 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Can cause slightly swollen and tender lymph nodes in your armpits.

You can prevent breast engorgement by closely managing the milk your breasts make and keeping milk moving out of your breasts. During your body's first week or two of adjusting to breast-feeding, take care not to let your breasts become overfilled.

  • Breast-feed your baby whenever he or she shows signs of hunger. If your breasts are hard and overfilled, let out (express) enough to soften your nipples before putting your baby to the breast.
  • Make sure that your baby is latching on and feeding well.
  • Empty your breasts with each feeding. This will help your milk move freely, and your milk supply will stay at the level your baby needs.

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

Breast engorgement is diagnosed based on symptoms alone. No exams or tests are needed.

A few days after your milk comes in, your milk supply should adjust to your baby's needs. You can expect relief from the first normal engorgement within 12 to 24 hours (or in 1 to 5 days if you are not breast-feeding). Your symptoms should disappear within a few days. If not, or if your breasts do not soften after a feeding, start home treatment right away.

To reduce pain and swelling, take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), apply ice or cold compresses, and wear a supportive nursing bra that is not too tight. Before you take any kind of medicine, ask your doctor if it is safe for you to use it while you are breast-feeding.

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