Postnatal Care

All You Need to Know About Breast Engorgement

Let’s help you deal with the pain of engorgement.

Verified by:
iMumz Expert Panel
Updated on:
September 29, 2022

What is breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement simply means hard, swollen, and painful breasts. It happened when too much breast milk accumulates in the milk ducts. You can note that this has happened when your breasts become big, tight, lumpy, and tender. A swelling occurs that travels right to your armpit. When this happens, the veins on the surface of your breasts pop out. It is most common when your baby is a newborn.

What causes breast engorgement?

  • Your baby is not latching on or just not feeding.
  • Your body is making more milk than your baby needs.
  • Your baby is sleeping longer and missing feeds.
  • There is a change in your baby’s feeding pattern.

Don’t worry, this is a temporary phenomenon.

How to Prevent Breast Engorgement

The best thing is to be aware and make sure the situation does not arise:

  • Feed your baby often and on demand (not by the clock) from birth, with at least 8 to 12 feeds in the first 24 hours.
  • Wake your baby for a feed if your breasts become full and uncomfortable (especially at night time).
  • Don’t limit your baby’s time at the breast.
  • Let the baby feed as long as they want to.
  • Don’t give your baby glucose water or any other fluid.
  • Ensure your baby is positioned and attached correctly, to maximise the amount of milk they are getting.

What is milk fever?

Milk fever is another name for breast engorgement. It is not really a fever. It just feels like fever - your body feels weak and you get a deep shiver inside.

However, since a fever could also be a sign of a breast infection called mastitis or another illness, you should consult your doctor to ensure you have the correct diagnosis.

Why do some women get  overabundant milk?

The most-common reason is an imbalance in demand and supply. If your body is producing more milk than the baby is consuming, engorgement can happen. Since, in the newborn days, your body is still learning how much milk to make, and a pattern is yet to be established, engorgement can happen.

Causes of Hyperlactation

  • Genetics: You may simply have a biological predisposition to make a lot of breast milk.
  • How you breastfeed: Excess milk production is often the result of not adequately draining both breasts or other nursing management issues. This can happen if you tend to breastfeed more on one side or the other.
  • Over-pumping: If you are using a breast pump and pumping too much, production can suddenly increase.
  • Hormone level: You may have an overabundance of the hormone prolactin, which is responsible for stimulating milk production.
  • Baby not feeding: An overabundant supply can also happen temporarily if your baby is refusing the breast.
  • Baby growth spurt: They may suddenly start nursing much more, which can stimulate an overproduction of milk that results in engorgement. (Your body may temporarily produce more milk than your baby needs in response to their uptick in suckling).

How to soothe my engorged breasts?

  • Stand in the shower and let the hot water run over the breast.
  • Remove your bra before breastfeeding (and leave it off).
  • Hand-express a little milk before feeding your baby, or try ‘reverse pressure softening’ (applying pressure around the nipples to push fluid back into the breasts).
  • Gently massage the breast in a downward motion from the chest wall toward the nipple while your baby is feeding.
  • Use a cold compress or a cold gel pack.
  • Express milk after a feed, either by hand or with a breast pump, if your breasts still feel full.

The Cold Cabbage-leaf Relief Method

  • Cut cabbage leaves the size of your breasts.
  • Chill clean, dry green cabbage leaves in your refrigerator.
  • Cover your entire breast with the cabbage leaves — except for your nipples, which you should leave bare. You may also slip the leaves into a loose-fitting bra if that’s easier.
  • Remove the cabbage leaves after 20 minutes (or when they get warm).
  • Wash your breasts and gently pat dry. Then toss away the used leaves (and use fresh if you choose to repeat this process).

Change Feeding Positions to Relieve Engorgement

  • When you change your feeding position, the changed angle of suckling can help clear the breasts
  • Side-lying: Lie on your side with your baby on their side, facing toward your breast. Support your baby with one hand and use your other hand to offer your breast to your baby. After your little one latches, you can support your head with your free arm and use your other to draw your baby closer to your body.
  • Football hold: Hold your baby to your side with your elbow bent. For example, if you want to feed on your left breast, hold your baby with your left arm/hand. Offer your left breast with your right hand as you guide your baby’s head with your left hand.

Tea-Tree Oil has Benefits

  • Tea tree oil contains a compound called terpinen-4-ol, which has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. You may apply the oil topically by diluting it with a carrier oil, such as olive or almond oil. Apply gently on your breast and massage it.
  • Tea tree oil can be toxic if swallowed, so be sure to rinse areas of your breast that may come into direct contact with your baby’s mouth during nursing. Keep the bottle up and out of your baby’s reach as well.
  • Finally, eating garlic and chewing on Vitamin C also has benefits.