5 Easy Ways To Relieve Engorgement While Breastfeeding

5 Easy Ways To Relieve Engorgement While Breastfeeding

Engorged breasts can be very uncomfortable. Painful and heavy, they can make breastfeeding harder for both the breastfeeding parent and the new baby. Engorgement can be fairly easy to manage when you understand why it happens and how to treat it. These 5 steps will keep you and your baby feed more comfortably.

What is Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement may be one of the most common  frustrations encountered by breastfeeding parents. After birth, as your milk transitions from colostrum to mature milk, you will notice many changes. One of these is a fullness or heaviness in the breast. This may also come with swelling – not only caused by the additional milk volume, but also increased blood flow to milk-making tissues and extra lymph tissue. If you were given fluids during labor or labored for a long period of time, swelling from that can also contribute to engorgement.


What Causes Engorgement?

Normal fullness of the breast, or engorgement, should go away within the first 1-2 weeks after your baby is born, as your body adjusts to their needs. Engorgement can be caused by:

  • Making more milk than your baby needs (oversupply)
  • Long stretches between feeding/pumping
  • Skipping a feeding or pumping/session
  • If your baby suddenly stops feeding as often or is removing less milk
  • If you stop breastfeeding milk suddenly


Engorgement can be uncomfortable for the breastfeeding parent and can make latching harder as well. When engorgement happens frequently, or is left unmanaged, it can may lead to clogged ducts and increases the risk of developing mastitis.


5 Easy Ways to Relieve Engorgement


5 ways to manage engorgement


1. Feed or express milk frequently – You should feed your baby or express milk 8-12 times in 24 hours. Avoid skipping feeding or pump sessions, even over night.

2. Avoid shortening or skipping feeding and pumping sessions – Feed your baby responsively or “on demand.” If your baby is very sleepy, you may need to wake them to feed every 2-3 hours. Offer your baby both breasts during each feeding, and let them finish one side before offering the other. Do not limit their time at the breast, wait until your baby is sleepy or pulls off before ending the feeding.

3. Gentle compressions while feeding or pumping – Using gentle, sweeping motions, move from the chest wall toward the nipple area before feeding or pumping.

This same motion can be used during a feeding or pump session to help with milk flow or to stimulate a second letdown. Hands-on pumping can also help to optimize your expression while pumping. Check to make sure that your flanges fit well and that your pump settings are comfortable, too.


4. Reverse Pressure Softening 

Reverse Pressure Softening

At times, engorgement or fullness in the breast may make it more difficult for your baby to latch. Engorgement is often caused by swelling and a buildup of fluid (not always just milk). A special type of massage, Reverse Pressure Softening, can alleviate some of the engorgement around the nipple, offering relief and making it easier to feed your baby.


5. Cool compress or ice pack – Try applying 15 minutes prior to feeding or pumping. Some studies show that cold cabbage leaves can be effective when used in place of a cold compress.


Avoiding Discomfort Between Feedings

If you find that you are feeling uncomfortably full between feeding or pump sessions, you may need to express milk *just until you are comfortable* to avoid becoming over-full.

Hand expression is recommended, as (next to breastfeeding) it most effectively drains the milk ducts. It may also be less likely to stimulate oversupply, as it is easier to stop when comfortable.

Massage the breast to relieve pressure. 

Use a manual or electric breast pump – only pump until the fullness is relieved. An additional full pump session can signal oversupply, which can lead to engorgement… a cycle that can be difficult to manage.

Avoid compression– A comfortable, well-fitted bra is wonderful during breastfeeding. Clothing that is overly tight can be restrictive to the milk flow process. Underwire or other materials that may press up against the body can increase risks for clogged ducts, milk blebs, and engorgement.

It is important that the breast does not remain overfull, as this can signal the body to slow down milk production. On the other hand, a lot of additional stimulation can cause an uncomfortable oversupply. Feeding your baby responsively or “on demand” is the best prevention method for engorgement.


Can you experience engorgement during pregnancy? 

Yes, you can expect to experience breast fullness during pregnancy. As your body is preparing for your baby, colostrum (the first milk your baby receives) production begins 14-16 weeks into pregnancy. This process, as well as additional blood flow during pregnancy, can cause breast fullness and tenderness. A cool compress, moist heat, gentle massage, and reverse pressure softening are all ways you can manage any discomfort.

Can I pump or express milk during pregnancy?


If you find that you are leaking colostrum, it is okay to wear a breast pad or milk catcher to keep your clothing dry. You should not actively express milk during pregnancy, as that stimulation can cause contractions and premature labor. As you reach full term in pregnancy, your prenatal care provider may recommend pumping or nipple stimulation, under their supervision. Please talk to your doctor or midwife before introducing the pump or hand-expressing while pregnant.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.