What Is Engorgement?

After you deliver a baby, your body is still hard at work. It has two new missions: helping you heal and getting food to your newborn.

In the hours and days following labor, circulation to your breasts increases. At first, they produce a thick, yellowish fluid called colostrum. It's full of protein and everything your baby needs to build a strong digestive system and stay healthy.

Three to 4 days after labor, your body produces milk all the time and stores it in your breast tissue. The first time your milk comes in, your breasts can become engorged, or filled with too much milk. They feel warm and heavy and may feel tender.

What You Can Do

Engorgement can be painful, and can cause trouble with your little one latching on. You may not want to breastfeed or pump. But that's the only way to make it go away.

Sometimes engorgement can make your breasts feel hard to the touch. That's all the milk backed up in the breast tissue. If you're breastfeeding, this can make it tough for your baby to latch on or create a painful and improper latch. Pump or manually express milk first, then try again.

You can also try to reduce the hardness in your breasts by massaging them, taking a warm shower, or applying a warm compress to your breasts before feeding. If that doesn't work, don't keep trying. The warmth may increase the swelling instead and prevent the milk from flowing.

Once you get some milk out, the engorgement should go away. To keep it from coming back, breastfeed or pump frequently. Pump if you skip a feeding or if your baby doesn't take enough milk or empty the breast enough.

Once your body understands how much milk your baby needs and gets into rhythm, engorgement shouldn't be an issue. If you still feel that tightness and pain, try these tips and talk to your doctor. You could also check in with a lactation consultant.

  • Switch to a bra with more support
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication
  • Try ice packs to reduce swelling

What If I'm Formula Feeding?

Your body takes it cues from you. If milk isn't leaving your body, it will stop making more. If your breasts are engorged when your milk comes in and you are planning to formula feed, use the tips above to relieve the pain.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 8, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Physical Changes After Delivery."

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Breastfeeding and Formula-Feeding Your Baby."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Breastfeeding: Getting Started."

Mayo Clinic: "Labor and delivery, postpartum care."

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