Breastfeeding Support for Mothers Facing Breast Fullness and Engorgement

It is normal for mothers to experience some breast fullness with milk production. However, breast fullness may lead to engorgement and breast pain if your baby is not nursing often enough or effectively removing milk. If you are coping with breast fullness and engorgement, know that the lactation consultants at University Hospitals are here to support you.

What is Breast Fullness?

Breast fullness:

  • Is the normal result of increase in fluids, blood and breast milk in the breast as you increase your milk supply
  • Usually occurs around 3 to 5 days after birth.
  • May cause the breasts to be firm, but breasts should be compressible and baby should be able to latch deeply to breast.
  • Will decrease as your breasts gradually regulate milk supply to match baby’s needs.

What is Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement:

  • Results from the increase in fluids and blood in the breast as well as milk remaining in the breast (incorrect breastfeeding latch, infrequent feedings, not expressing breast milk if baby does not drain breast, or not allowing baby to drain breast).
  • Results in breasts being hard and swollen, with tight, shiny skin. You may have mild to severe breast pain and may also, have a fever.
  • May cause your baby to struggle to latch on or may be unable to latch onto the breast.

How is Breast Engorgement Treated?

Treatment for engorgement:

  • Watch for feeding cues and feed your baby frequently (8 to 16 times or more in 24 hours).
  • Baby is latched deeply onto the breast.
  • Massage the breast during feeding to help drain the breast.
  • Remove your bra if tight as this may restrict the flow of breast milk.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Ibuprofen (as directed by physician) to help reduce swelling or for pain relief.
  • Use cold compresses on the breast after feeding for comfort.

If your baby is having problems latching onto the breast, try the following to soften the breast and nipple before latching baby:

  • “Reverse Pressure technique”
  • Hand Expression
  • Use breast pump only if reverse pressure and expression by hand does not relieve breast engorgement or if your baby is unable to latch onto the breast. Call your lactation consultant or healthcare provider.

Sources:

Lawrence, Ruth A. & Lawrence, Robert M. “Breastfeeding, A Guide for the Medical Professional”, Eighth edition, ELSEVIER, 2016.

Wambach, Karen and Riordan, Jan “Breastfeeding and Human Lactation”, Fifth edition, Jones & Bartlett, 2016.