Health conditions

Engorgement

Engorgement is a medical condition that can be experienced by breastfeeding mothers.

What is engorgement?

Your milk will come in around 24 to 72 hours after birth. A degree of fullness may be experienced in your breasts at this time. After a feed at least one breast should feel soft and light (well drained).

Engorgement is caused by a build-up of blood, milk and other fluids in the breast. It will occur if your baby is not feeding and attaching well and the breasts aren’t drained well during a feed. Less commonly it may occur if your body is making more milk than the baby needs.

Signs and symptoms

Engorgement results in very full and often painful breasts.

Treatment of engorgement

  1. Ensure your baby is attached well when breastfeeding.
  2. Feed your baby frequently at least 8 to 12 times every 24 hours.
  3. Do not limit the baby’s time at the breast.
  4. Express a small amount of milk before you feed to soften your breast and help the baby to attach.
  5. Use cool gel packs from the refrigerator (not freezer) for comfort.
  6. If the breasts are full and heavy 24 hours after the milk comes in, a one-off complete drainage of the breast is necessary. This is done by using a hospital grade electric pump if possible. Women who have delivered at King Edward Memorial Hospital (external site) can access an electric pump at the KEMH Breastfeeding Centre or Emergency Centre. Ensure a correct size breast shield is used when expressing.
  7. Seek professional advice to ensure the engorgement is resolved.

How can engorgement be prevented?

  • Ensure your baby attaches correctly to the breast.
  • Feed your baby often without limiting the time at the breast.
  • Ensure your baby drains the breast well at feeds.
  • Avoid use of dummies or complimentary feeds.

If your breasts are very full, you may need to express a little milk to soften the breast so your baby can attach well.

Where to get help

Breastfeeding Centre of WA

  • Counselling and appointments 8.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday
  • Phone: 9340 1844
  • More information about Breastfeeding Centre of WA

Ngala Helpline

  • Phone: 9368 9368 – 8.00am to 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA)

You can also:

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Acknowledgements
Breastfeeding Centre of WA

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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