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    Home ›› Breastfeeding engorgement: Symptoms & relief

    Home ›› Breastfeeding engorgement: Symptoms & relief

    Breastfeeding engorgement: 4 easy tricks for engorgement relief


    Reading time: 11 mins.


    One of the most common breastfeeding issues that mothers encounter is breast engorgement. While breastfeeding, engorgement is quite normal to experience at one time or another, but it can be uncomfortable and may lead to other issues if ignored. 

    It’s important for mothers to recognise breast engorgement symptoms and learn how to relieve engorged breasts. In this article we’ll cover all the essentials, including prevention, symptoms, and 4 simply tricks for how to help engorged breasts including:


    1. Apply a warm and cold compress.
    2. Massage the breasts.
    3.  Express milk.
    4. Alternate feeding positions and breasts.


    So, let’s get started. Read on to discover everything you need to know about engorgement.

    What is engorgement?


    So, what is breast engorgement? Shortly after birth, your breasts will go through a two- to four-day adjustment period as they start to produce milk. Here are some facts to help you understand breastfeeding engorgement: 1


    • Engorgement is when a mother experiences breast swelling that leads to painful, tender breasts.
    • It is very common during the first few days after giving birth due to the increased blood flow and milk supply to the breasts. 
    • It can also occur within one to two weeks after giving birth or at any point while breastfeeding. 
    • While this is a normal part of nursing, it can be uncomfortable and, occasionally, lead to other complications – which is why managing it is key.

    Why do people experience breast engorgement symptoms?


    Now you know what breastfeeding engorgement is, you’re probably wondering what actually causes it. There are different reasons as to why women experience breast engorgement symptoms including:2


    • Missing a feeding or pumping session.
    • Weaning from breastfeeding too quickly.
    • If your breasts are producing more milk than your baby can drink, it can cause engorgement.
    • Your breasts can become firm and uncomfortable if you cannot drain them entirely of milk due to improper latching or difficulty feeding.

    How long does engorgement last?


    So, you know the answer to, ‘what is engorgement’ and we’ve explored the top causes, but how long does engorgement last?3


    • Every woman is different and the amount of time the condition lasts can vary. 
    • Some experience mild symptoms for only one day.
    • Some may experience breast engorgement symptoms for up to two weeks. 


    Tip: If you find engorgement lasts more than a few days, check in with your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.

    Breast engorgement symptoms


    Whilst the symptoms can vary from person to person, the following are the most common breast engorgement symptoms:4


    • Hard or tight breasts
    • Breasts that are warm to touch
    • Tender or painful breasts
    • Heavy, full breasts
    • Lumpy, swollen breasts

    Engorgement or mastitis: How to tell the difference


    While engorgement and mastitis may appear similar, they are completely different conditions. So how do you know if you have engorgement or mastitis?5


    • Mastitis is a breast infection that usually results in flu-like symptoms.
    • Mastitis usually only occurs in one breast at a time.
    • Engorgement is the result of milk building up and breasts not fully emptying.
    • Engorgement often happens in both breasts simultaneously.
    • Engorgement can also lead to other issues such as blocked milk ducts or a breast infection.


    It is key you know how to relieve engorgement as soon as it starts to appear, to prevent any unwanted issues. Read on to discover not only how to prevent engorgement but tips for engorgement relief too.

    How to prevent engorgement


    There are a few ways you can help prevent the condition from developing in the first place. It can be more difficult in the first few days of motherhood to prevent engorged breasts, as the body adapts to the new changes; however, these four methods can help prevent breastfeeding engorgement:1

    1. Get a breast check


    You should schedule an appointment before your baby arrives to get your breasts checked. A healthcare professional can then provide recommendations if any adjustments are needed to make feeding more comfortable, as well as explaining how to look out for engorgement or mastitis, and how to relieve engorged breasts.

    2. Feed or express regularly


    Breastfeeding mothers produce milk regularly. You should aim to breastfeed at least eight times every 24 hours, fully emptying your breasts each time. Don’t forget to express milk frequently when you can’t be with your baby during feedings, such as when you return to work after maternity leave

    Tip: When you are expressing breastmilk or breastfeeding on one side, it is not unusual for you to experience leaking from the other breast. Make sure you are ready for anything with breast pads that will protect you from wet clothes.

    3. Ensure a proper latch


    Establishing a good breastfeeding latch is important to ensure that the milk is fully drained. This will also help to prevent other issues from occurring, such as sore or irritated nipples. 

    If you have any issues when it comes to your baby’s latch, make sure you check in with your midwife, health visitor, or GP. They will be able to offer you advice, check for underlying issues such as tongue tie 6 and point you in the direction of a breastfeeding peer supporter.

    4. Wean slowly


    When the time comes for your baby to stop breastfeeding, don’t stop all at once. It’s best to wean them off slowly by decreasing the feedings little by little. This will allow your breasts to gradually slow down milk production, which will help prevent engorged breasts.

    What you need

    Engorgement relief


    Breastfeeding with engorgement is completely safe – and necessary – to prevent symptoms from worsening and to provide some relief. Here are four top tips breastfeeding women can use for how to help engorged breasts:7

    1. Apply a warm and cold compress

    Applying a warm compress can help encourage milk let down and a cold compress can help relieve pain and swelling. 5

    2. Massage your breasts.

    A great way to relieve breastfeeding engorgement is to encourage optimal milk flow during feedings. Try gently massaging your breasts while nursing your baby to help stimulate milk flow and provide engorgement relief. 

    3. Alternate feeding positions and breasts

    It can be helpful to change breastfeeding positions, to ensure that the milk is completely drained from all areas of the breasts. Additionally, alternate breasts during feeds to encourage the baby to empty both breasts.

    Tip: Check out our guide which covers a range of different breastfeeding positions that can help both mothers and babies get the most out of feeding sessions.

    4. Express milk

    Deciding to express breastmilk has many benefits, particularly when it comes to helping with engorgement relief. 


    • If you are unable to be with your little one during feedings, you still need empty the breast milk, which is easy to do by expressing.
    • Expressing by hand can gently relieve your breasts before a feed, helping to get the milk flowing and makes it easier for your baby to latch on by softening the areola.


    Tip: Find the right bottle! For example, the Philips Avent Natural Bottle with Natural Response Teat. The breast-shaped teat is fitted compliments your baby's own drinking rhythm - drink, swallow, breathe and rest, and only releases milk when triggered by your baby's intuitive tongue compression – just like your breast. 


    Now you know how to help engorged breasts, what about protecting them while you’re treating the symptoms? Here are a couple of simple tips to protect your breasts while feeding and wearing clothes to give yourself a little engorgement relief:


    • Use nipple shields to breastfeed at a controlled pace and prevent soreness.
    • Use soft breast pads inside your bra, and change them often – especially if they are wet.
    • Use breast shells inside your bra. 
    • Wear loose, breathable clothing such as cotton tops.
    • Avoid wearing padded bras.

    From answers to questions like, ‘what is breast engorgement’ and, ‘how long does engorgement last’ to tips for engorgement relief, this article has everything you need to be able to deal with breast engorgement symptoms.

    Remember that while some pain and discomfort is perfectly normal during breastfeeding, engorgement can be prevented, so always consult your GP if symptoms don’t go away or if they worsen.

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