Breast engorgement (swelling) occurs when the breasts produce more milk than the amount that is being expelled by breast-feeding, pumping, or manual (hand) expression. The milk overflows from the glands and engorges the breasts. Breast engorgement is common during the first two to five days after childbirth when breast-feeding begins but can also develop any time the baby’s demand for breast milk decreases or stops or the mother is unable to empty her breasts.
When breast engorgement occurs, the entire breast, nipple, and areola (pigmented region surrounding the nipple) swell and usually cause discomfort or pain. The baby may suck from the nipples but will not receive much milk. However, the baby's sucking will cause the breasts to produce more milk, further overfilling the milk glands and increasing engorgement.
Other symptoms of breast engorgement include:
Breast engorgement can lead to blocked milk ducts or mastitis (breast infection) if milk is not emptied from the breasts.
Engorgement may occur shortly after childbirth even if a woman does not breast-feeding since the breasts will still produce milk temporary. Milk production should stop soon if milk is not being emptied.
The best way to prevent breast engorgement is to breast-feed frequently (eight to 12 times in 24 hours), especially during the first few days after childbirth. Breast engorgment may also be prevented by practicing the following:
Severe breast engorgement should not last more than 12 to 48 hours. The treatment of breast engorgement usually focuses on relieving symptoms. Women who experience breast engorgement may wish to talk to their physician or consult a certified lactation consultant (an individual with medical training in the field of lactation).
One or more of the following may help alleviate the symptoms of breast engorgement:
Updated: June 29, 2008