Breast Fullness Versus Breast Engorgement

What is breast fullness?

Breast Fullness Versus Breast Engorgement Care Guide

Breast fullness happens when your breast milk starts to come in. This is usually 3 to 5 days after you give birth. When your breasts are full with milk, they may look swollen and feel tender. Your breast milk should flow out normally when you breastfeed or pump milk from your breasts.

What is breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement can also occur when your breasts begin to make breast milk. If your body makes a large amount of milk that does not get removed, it may press on your milk ducts. This makes it difficult for the milk to move through the milk ducts. Milk ducts carry breast milk from the glands (small sacs), where it is made, down to your nipple. Engorgement can also happen if your baby misses a feeding or you change how often you breastfeed your baby. Your breasts may be swollen, painful, and shiny. Your baby may have a hard time latching on (attaching) to your breast to feed.

How does breast engorgement affect breastfeeding?

Your milk supply will decrease if the excess breast milk is not removed. Your baby may not be able to latch on correctly to your breast, which can cause damage to your nipples. Engorgement can also lead to mastitis (breast infection) if the milk is not removed.

What increases my risk for breast engorgement?

  • You do not completely empty your breasts when feeding or pumping.

  • You miss feedings, feed your baby from the breast less often, or rush through feedings.

  • Your body makes more breast milk than your baby needs.

  • You stop breastfeeding without slowly weaning your baby.

  • You wear tight-fitting under-wire bras or clothes that put pressure on your breasts.

How is breast engorgement treated?

  • Breastfeed often. Breastfeed your baby 8 to 12 times each day or any time he shows signs of being hungry. Signs include looking more awake, being more active, and mouthing. Mouthing is when your baby puts his hands in his mouth or acts like he is sucking. You may need to wake your baby to breastfeed more often.

  • Express or pump milk from your breasts before you breastfeed. This will help soften your breast and your nipple, and allow your baby to latch on better. Express or pump after you breastfeed if your baby is not emptying your breasts when he feeds. Ask your caregiver for more information about expressing, collecting, and storing breast milk.

  • Apply warmth to your breasts before breastfeeding. Put a warm, wet cloth on your breasts or take a warm shower. This can help increase your milk flow.

  • Apply a cold compress after breastfeeding. The cold may help decrease swelling and pain in your engorged breasts. Ask how long and how often to use a cold compress.

  • Massage your breasts. Breast massage helps empty your engorged breasts and decrease pain. Gently massage your breasts before and during breastfeeding to help increase your milk flow. Gently stroke your breast, starting from the outer areas and working your way toward the nipple. Breast massage may also help prevent breast engorgement if done in the first few days after you give birth.

  • Take medicine to decrease pain and swelling. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are common over-the-counter medicines that help decrease pain and swelling. Follow your caregiver's directions on how and when to take them.

How can I prevent breast engorgement?

  • Do not rush through a breastfeeding session. Allow your baby to breastfeed for as long as he is able. Do not set a time limit for how long you breastfeed your baby.

  • Empty your breasts completely. Let your baby feed from each breast during each feeding. Be sure the first breast is completely emptied before you offer the second breast. Start with a different breast each time. Use a breast pump to remove and store leftover milk after your baby has finished a feeding. Use it to remove excess milk if you miss a breastfeeding session or any time your breasts feel very full.

  • Breastfeed on demand. Breastfeed your baby any time he shows signs that he is hungry, instead of following a schedule.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your body aches.

  • You have pain and swelling in one or both breasts that keeps you from breastfeeding.

  • One or both of your breasts is red, very swollen or hard, painful, and feels warm or hot.

  • Your have breast engorgement that does not get better within 24 hours.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Where can I get more information?

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    141 Northwest Point Boulevard
    Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
    Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
    Web Address: http://www.aap.org
  • La Leche League International
    957 North Plum Grove Road
    Schaumburg , IL 60173
    Phone: 1- 847 - 519-7730
    Phone: 1- 800 - 525-3243
    Web Address: http://www.lalecheleague.org

Care Agreement

You have the right to choose how you are going to feed your baby. Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. You may ask your caregiver for more information or join a group with other breastfeeding mothers. You and your caregiver can work together to plan the best way to feed your baby.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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