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Breast Care for the Non-Breastfeeding Mother

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What happens to my breasts during and after pregnancy?

Your breasts prepare for lactation during pregnancy. Milk usually comes in 3 to 4 days after delivery. Breast milk production will begin if you had a baby vaginally or if you had a C-section.

What happens to my breasts if I do not breastfeed?

Your production of breast milk will stop by itself over time. Before this happens, you may have any of the following:

  • Milk leakage may occur. Drops of milk may leak from your breasts for weeks after delivery.
  • Breast engorgement may also occur. Your breasts may feel hard to the touch. You may see swelling and feel pressure, discomfort, or pain for up to 10 days after delivery. Breast swelling can cause you to get a fever and have muscle aches. Engorgement can be uncomfortable, but it helps your body decrease breast milk production.

How do I care for my breasts?

Your healthcare provider may suggest any of the following:

  • Wear a bra that fits correctly and provides firm support. A well-fitting bra that is not too tight may decrease breast pain and the amount of milk that leaks from your breasts. A supportive bra can also decrease the symptoms of engorgement. Your healthcare provider also may tell you not to stimulate your nipples.
  • Place ice packs on your breasts. This helps decrease breast swelling and pain. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a bag and cover it with a towel. Ask your healthcare provider how often and how long you should use ice.
  • Ask about medicines to decrease your breast pain or discomfort. Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may help decrease pain and swelling. They can be bought with or without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take this medicine. Follow directions. Ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding and kidney damage if not taken correctly. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have very painful breasts.
  • You have a fever and muscle aches that last longer than 1 day.
  • You feel or see a lump in your breast.
  • You have breast swelling that gets worse, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.