Breast Engorgement

Breast engorgement is one of the most common breast feeding problems faced by women. Read and know more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this disorder.

What is Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement is a condition where breasts of new mothers become full of milk resulting in pain and inflammation. This problem is quite common during the first few weeks after delivery. During this period, the colostrum changes to mature milk and as a result the breasts of the affected woman become full of milk. In case the extra milk of a woman is not consumed by her baby due to any reason, it can result in breast engorgement.

Causes of Breast Engorgement

Picture of Breast Engorgement

Picture 1 – Breast Engorgement

The most common cause of this disorder is an imbalance between the production and the consumption of breast milk by an infant. This can occur when a mother does not feed her child properly at regular intervals. This can be due to lack of time, busy schedule, lack of information or any other problem. It is also observed in cases where there is obstruction in the milk duct of a woman. The obstruction can occur due to extreme pressure on the breasts due to tight clothes or incorrect sleeping positions.

Symptoms of Breast Engorgement

Know about some of the most commonly observed symptoms of this condition:

  • The breasts appear fuller and firmer. Some amount of engorgement is observed in every woman. However, if some pain is also experienced due to this condition, it suggests need of immediate attention.
  • Swelling, pain and inflammation may be observed at the affected part.
  • A low grade fever is also associated with the some cases of this disease. Generally, a rise of about 1 to 2 degrees is observed in the affected woman within the first week of delivery.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit.
  • Apoptosis (self-destruction of cells) which further gives birth to decrease in milk production.
  • In some cases, flattening of the nipples has also been observed. This results in inefficient nursing.
  • Fatigue and loss of appetite had also been observed in some patients.
  • In case the engorgement occurs due to an obstruction of milk ducts in a woman, her infant may feel it hard to suck the milk.
  • If appropriate measures are not taken to prevent breast engorgement, problems such as Mastitis (breast inflammation) may also occur.

Diagnosis of Breast Engorgement

There are no specific tests for diagnosing this condition. The disease is simply recognized with the aid of associated symptoms.

Treatment of Breast Engorgement

A number of options are available for the treatment of this condition. These include:

Warm compress and hot showers

The most commonly used technique is using a warm compress on the breasts before feeding. This improves the flow of the milk from the breasts. Alternatively, you may also take a shower with warm water before feeding. While practicing this technique you should, however, remember to take the precaution of avoiding heat application for more than 3 minutes as it can have a negative effect on milk flow.

Gentle massage

If you notice that the child is facing problems while sucking the milk, you should press your breasts gently with your hands. This will help release milk in a smooth manner without any accumulation.

Cold packs

In order to relive swelling or pain, you should apply cold packs or crushed ice to your breasts before and after nursing.


In so far as medication is concerned acetaminophen or ibuprofen is often prescribed to relive painful symptoms associated with engorged breasts. However, you should take these medications only after consulting a doctor.

Prevention of Breast Engorgement

Although fullness of breast is a common problem with most women, does not occur in every one. There are certain precautions that you can follow to prevent your breasts from becoming painful or hard due to engorgement:

Image of Breast Engorgement

Picture 2 – Breast Engorgement Image

  • Take care of your first breast feeding session. Feed your child with your breast milk within 2 hours of delivery. You may ask the medical staff in the hospital (where you have given birth) to assist you in this process.
  • Avoid skipping your feeding sessions. Instead, feed your child at regular intervals. Generally, feeding an infant with breast milk for 8-10 times a day is sufficient for preventing engorgement. You should also keep a watch on your infant and feed him immediately as soon he gives clues about being hungry. Even if you are a working woman, you should arrange your schedule in a way that lets you incorporate regular feeding sessions in between.
  • Never haste during the feeding process. This does not allow the baby to drain the breast properly. If you want to prevent the chances of breast engorgement, you should let your baby suck for at least 20 minutes. Contact a doctor in case you notice that he is not willing to consume for more than 5-10 minutes.
  • In case you have skipped a feeding session, press your breasts to get the milk out. You can even make use of breast pumps to drain the milk on particular occasions.
  • Avoid feeding your baby with the aid of bottles. Even if feeding with bottle is unavoidable due to emergencies, you should not forget to release your milk by hand press.
  • Use the right technique for breastfeeding. This involves sitting in the right position while feeding to encourage the infant to drain out the milk completely. This can prevent breast engorgement.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes or bra. Tight clothes encourage engorgement of breasts by causing obstruction of the milk duct in women. Always wear well fitted bra to support yourself and avoid constriction.

Although a common and discomforting problem, Breast engorgement is not a serious condition. With proper treatment and preventive measures, it can be cured or kept at bay. At times, simple lifestyle changes can help one avoid recurrence or even development of this condition.


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