Breast engorgement

After the arrival of your new baby, you may notice some changes in your body. One of these changes is your breasts as they begin to produce milk. When your milk starts to come in, your breasts may feel overly full, tight or tender, and can occasionally feel painful or engorged.

This helpful article will tell you what breast engorgement is, how to prevent it, and how to relieve engorgement.

What Is Breast Engorgement?

If you’re making more milk than your baby needs, your breasts can become overfilled with milk, which is known as breast engorgement.

During pregnancy, your body starts producing colostrum, a thick and yellowish milk that’s full of antibodies and protein. This is the early milk that will nourish your newborn right after birth.

Approximately two to four days after you’ve given birth, your breasts may become fuller and fill with the standard white breast milk. This is often referred to as your milk ‘coming in’.

Your body is very intuitive and usually responds to how much milk your baby needs. Once your baby has fed, your body will start making more milk to get ready for the next feed. A little breast fullness in the first few days is perfectly normal as your milk supply learns to match your baby’s needs. But sometimes breast milk production can become excessive, leading to discomfort and possibly even causing pain in your engorged breasts.

Not only can breast engorgement occur shortly after giving birth, but it can also happen later on if your baby isn’t feeding as frequently or if they have recently transitioned to solid foods.

If you notice your breasts are engorged, take steps to treat this as soon as possible, as engorgement could lead to blocked milk ducts or mastitis. If you notice that your breasts are still engorged after six to eight weeks, you should contact your midwife or health visitor for advice or treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Engorgement?

During milk production, it’s perfectly normal to have full breasts, but you may have breast engorgement if you notice your breasts feel:

  • overly full

  • hard

  • tight

  • painful.

In Summary

Breast engorgement happens when the breasts become overly full of milk. This may happen as soon as two to four days after you’ve given birth. You may feel symptoms such as fullness, or hard, tight and painful breasts.

How Can You Prevent Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement may occur when your breasts aren’t emptied frequently. Your newborn usually needs feeding little and often, so if they aren’t feeding as much as they need to, you may experience engorged breasts. However, this may go away once you and your baby settle into a regular feeding pattern.

if you’re breastfeeding, one cause of underfeeding is poor attachment. Your baby may have difficulty latching on when your breasts are engorged. A tell-tale sign of a latching issues is nipple pain. A possible solution to this problem may be to try different breastfeeding positions to find one that feels right for you and your newborn. This can encourage breastfeeding and reduce the feeling of engorgement.

In situations when you can’t breastfeed right away, you can help prevent breast engorgement by expressing some milk by hand to relieve a little pressure, or by using a breast pump. Try not to express too much milk though as this can lead to the production of more. Expressing by hand is also helpful in preventing or relieving mastitis and blocked ducts.

Your midwife or health visitor may be able to provide you with some tips on expressing and storing your milk.

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How Can You Relieve Engorgement?

If you’re not breastfeeding or expressing milk, then you may feel some discomfort from engorgement.

You can try the following in the meantime to help relieve the pain of breast engorgement:

  • Wear a well-fitted bra that doesn’t restrict your breasts

  • Avoid expressing too much milk as this can lead to the production of more. Instead, try just expressing a small amount to relieve the pressure

  • Place warm flannels on your breasts before expressing

  • Take an over-the-counter pain medication, like ibuprofen or paracetamol to ease the pain. These are safe during pregnancy, at the recommended dose.

  • You can try a popular home remedy—placing a refrigerated, clean cabbage leaf directly on the breast after feeding or expressing. The coolness combined with the shape of the cabbage leaf, which fits the shape of a breast, may help with the swelling, but this is a home remedy that may not work for all women.

Remember, if breast engorgement continues to cause you discomfort or pain, we recommend visiting your midwife or health visitor for advice.

In Summary

Whether you’re breastfeeding or expressing, breast engorgement may likely go away by itself. In the meantime, you can try hand expressing a little milk, using a warm flannel on your breasts or taking the recommended dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the discomfort.

FAQs at a Glance

  • To relieve breast engorgement, you can try:

    • Expressing a small amount of milk by hand
    • Wearing a well-fitted bra that doesn’t restrict your breasts
    • Placing warm flannels on your breasts before expressing
    • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain relief
    • Applying cool cabbage leaves to your breasts after feeding or expressing.
  • If you’re breastfeeding your baby, but they’re not feeding enough or you’re unable to breastfeed at that time, then pumping or expressing by hand is a good choice to help relieve breast engorgement.


    Expressing just a small amount is enough to relieve engorgement, as too much expressing can lead to the production of more milk.

  • Engorgement is normal in the first couple of weeks after giving birth and usually goes away after the first few days once your milk supply matches your baby’s feeding pattern.
    If you still have engorgement after 6 to 8 weeks, contact your midwife or health visitor for advice.

The Bottom Line

Breast engorgement can be uncomfortable, but it’s not something to worry about. It can be easily rectified by getting into a comfortable pattern when feeding your newborn or by expressing a little milk to relieve the pressure.

However, sometimes a blocked milk duct or mastitis can feel like breast engorgement, so if you’re in doubt, consult your health visitor or midwife, especially if you notice any flu-like symptoms or your breasts are hot to the touch.

The good news is that the uncomfortable swelling will most likely go down, either with regular feedings or just with time. Soon your breasts will feel less heavy and achy, and you’ll have more energy to focus on your little one.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.