How to Relieve Engorged Breasts

Breastfeeding success most often depends on moms having the right information at their fingertips in those first crucial days, in addition to getting support. So, if you’re pregnant, set this article aside now but remind yourself (a calendar alert is a good idea!) to look at it 1-5 days after birth. That’s when engorgement peaks, and you’ll want these tips (and video) handy.

What to Expect as You Start Breastfeeding

From the get-go, your baby will suck colostrum from your breast, sometimes called "liquid gold" because it's rich with immune-boosting antibodies and protein. Then your milk “starts to come in” 3-5 days after birth and your breast will feel full, warm and heavy for 1-2 days (all totally normal). Both blood and milk are rushing to your breasts! Feeding your baby frequently is important during the early days of your child’s life.

What is breast engorgement?

You’ll know you are engorged when your breasts are swollen, very firm, hot and painful. The skin may feel tight or look shiny. Swelling may go all the way to your armpit. Ouch!

How to Relieve Engorged Breasts at Home

Below you’ll find tips for how to treat breast engorgement.

  • Feed your little one often. It’s hands-down the best thing to do!
  • Sometimes your breast is so hard your baby’s mouth just pops off! You’ll want to hand express some milk and massage toward the armpit before your baby latches. You can also do reverse pressure to soften around the nipple.
  • To relieve pressure/pain, hand express for a few minutes until you feel better (but don’t drain the breast).
  • Between feedings you can use cold compresses, bags of frozen veggies, ice packs etc. Some women swear by gel “soothies” that are cooled in the fridge.
  • Apply moist heat BEFORE you breastfeed (warm shower, warm towel, warm compress). This will help your milk let down. A cool trick is to put a few tablespoons of water in a diaper and heat it in the microwave for 10 seconds to make a compress that holds its heat well. Just make sure it’s not so hot to burn or irritate your skin!
  • Ask your doctor if ibuprofen can be used for breast swelling or pain.

Will Engorged Breasts Go Away?

As you breastfeed and empty your breasts, engorgement should get better in a day or two. However, if you can’t or are unable to breastfeed, breast engorgement may last several days, which if untreated, may lead to plugged ducts or mastitis.

Will Pumping Make Engorgement Worse?

Pumping shouldn’t make engorgement worse—in fact, it might help alleviate engorgement. If your breast is engorged, it might become too firm for your baby to latch. Pumping a little bit before breastfeeding may help soften the areola and lengthen the nipple to make it easier for your infant to connect with your breast.

    Watch & Learn the Techniques

    When to Get More Breastfeeding Help

    • Call your doctor right away if your breast is red and painful, you have flu-like symptoms or you have a temp of +101 degrees.
    • Seek advice from a lactation consultant if your engorgement and related pain don't improve within 2 days.

    Breast Engorgement: Final Thoughts

    Engorgement is one of the reasons women abandon breastfeeding. Share this advice with a pregnant friend (or mom who just gave birth...but act fast!) and you'll have done a very good deed!

    Advice is adapted from materials by Breastfeeding Medicine of Northeast Ohio.

    About Dr. Harvey Karp

    Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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    Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.