Immediately after childbirth most women’s breasts will be triggered into producing breast milk – particularly if their baby has effectively attached, or latched. However, if your baby is having trouble feeding – or if your breasts produce too much milk and fill with other fluids too – your breasts can become painful and swollen, and breastfeeding can become a challenge. This is known as breast engorgement.

What are the symptoms of breast engorgement?

  • Swelling and firmness
  • Pain, tenderness or discomfort outside of breastfeeding
  • Flattened, stretched nipples
  • Persistently warm breasts
  • Pain during breastfeeding

How to prevent breast engorgement

In the lead up to childbirth, speak with your obstetrician, a midwife or a lactation consultant about breastfeeding techniques. Immediately after childbirth, you can also ask your birth team for assistance in helping your baby to latch and feed effectively. Frequent and effective breastfeeding is the best possible prevention against engorged breasts, and sleeping in the same room as your baby and feeling comfortable and confident with your breastfeeding technique will help you meet their feeding needs.

How to relieve breast engorgement

Breast engorgement can be extremely uncomfortable, and it’s important to seek relief as soon as possible – engorged breasts can make breastfeeding difficult for your baby and reduce their ability to feed.

  • Find a comfortable and relaxing location to breastfeed – if possible, remove your bra.
  • Massage your breasts before and during breastfeeding.
  • Apply a warm cloth or heat pack to your breasts for a few minutes prior to breastfeeding.
  • Increase the frequency of feeds, and always ensure your baby feeds until they are full.
  • Use a breast pump to express excess milk and relieve the pressure in your breasts (be careful not to express too much as this can encourage your breasts to produce more milk).
  • Apply cold packs after breastfeeding to reduce pain.

Further help

Although uncomfortable, breast engorgement is usually only temporary. Your breasts should adjust to your baby’s needs within a few weeks.

Nevertheless, in the first days of breastfeeding it’s important to overcome any challenges breast engorgement is causing you and your baby. For assistance with breastfeeding, you can speak to a child and family health nurse or a lactation consultant. To discuss pain relief, speak to your GP.