Breast Engorgement: Does it Cause Breastfeeding Difficulties?

Engorged Breasts - Avoiding and Treating

So many seemingly familiar terms are sometimes not defined or explained clearly. Read this informative guide and learn what breast engorgement means.

What is Breast Engorgement? Causes and Relieving Tips

Having a baby comes with its difficulties. Some of these difficulties involve breastfeeding the baby, which may be particularly difficult for you within the first few days of birthing the baby. You may experience some accompanying worries during this time because you will now need to focus on the new-born. 

The important fact is that you must breastfeed the baby no matter how you feel, and this may be especially tasking on your body system, considering that it will now begin to adjust to the fact that you will be nursing a baby.

What is Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement usually occurs in the process of breastfeeding babies during the first few days of their birth. Breast engorgement refers to a condition in which the breast becomes swollen, hard, and painful due to too much milk presence.

Sometimes, the breast’s engorgement is often accompanied by a rise in the body’s temperature, especially during the first week of giving birth to your baby. This common fever in your postpartum first week is not usually associated with any other illness aside from the fact that your breast is engorged. Sometimes, this condition of fever accompanying breast engorgement is termed milk fever.

Apart from this, breast engorgement can also take place sporadically at any time while you are nursing your baby. This may be as a result of various factors, depending on whether or not you exclusively breastfeed your baby.

What are the Causes of Breast Engorgement?

The sensation that accompanies breast engorgement is usually experienced when you miss giving your baby breast milk, when your breast begins to produce mature milk instead of colostrum, or when your baby begins to eat more solid foods and feed less breast milk.

Common Symptoms of Breast Engorgement

Apart from the fact that an engorged breast is normally swollen, painful, warm, and firm, the nipples are usually flat, making it difficult for the baby to feed. Another common symptom is that you may experience tender and swollen lymph nodes close to your armpit (around the breast), and your temperature may rise to around 38 C (100.4 F) 

Breast Engorgement and Working Nursing Mothers

If you are a stay-at-home mom and you have breast engorgement, by now, you already know that it will go away with time. What happens, then, if you are a working mom? With the need for you to focus on your career or perhaps try to support your family with more financial resources, you may not have an option other than resume work after your maternity leave.

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If you have been nursing your baby well during the time of your maternity leave, then there is a high probability that you will have breast engorgement by the time you resume work. This can be painful, but at the same time, it may be an excellent opportunity for you to plan on pumping your milk. 

The milk expressed via pumping should be carefully stored in the freezer (this will preserve the milk’s useful content), and you may not need to opt for baby formula feeds, especially if you hate that idea. Besides, physicians recommend that breast milk should be given to your baby for at least six months. So, if you are a nursing and working mom, it might be a good option for you, therefore to supply breast milk to your baby through pumping.

Common Problems that May be Associated with Breast Engorgement

Although any nursing mother can quickly feel an engorged breast, problems may arise when certain complications have developed, and you are taking it to be that the engorged breast is just yet to go away. If this is the case, you will need to observe some of these complications so that you can quickly report any abnormal change in your overall health or the health of your baby to your physician. These complications may include:

Low Supply of Breast Milk

This may occur as a result of too much pumping of the breast, leaving your baby with little or no milk to feed upon. This can be avoided by not trying to force the engorged milk in your breast upon the baby. Try and ensure that you give your baby this milk at intervals or when you sense that he/she is hungry.

Complications Arising From Latching

Breast engorgement causes the nipple of your breast to be flat. When the nipple is flat, it hard for the milk to come out, causing difficulty breastfeeding your baby. If this problem cannot be fixed by either pumping or trying other relief methods, you can immediately consult your physician.

A Low Gain Of Weight By The Baby

Inadequate feeding can result in low weight gain for your baby. Aside from this, when your breast milk does not come out, more breast milk production will not be stimulated. This may eventually result in lower production of milk and may affect the feeding pattern of your baby. Low feeding results in inadequate weight gain for your baby.

Refusal to Latch by the Baby

An engorged breast may cause a disorganized feeding for your baby. This may either be feeding too much for your baby or not feeding at all. When your baby feeds too much, he/she may begin to refuse to latch on your breast. On the other hand, your baby may become tired of getting little or no milk to latch upon. This frustration may prevent your baby from trying to feed at all. If your breast engorgement is discovered early enough, you may quickly use some of the hints provided in this article to avoid the refusal of latching by your baby.  

Other Breast Problems

A prolonged engorgement may eventually lead to some other problems of the breast. These problems may include blebs, plugged milk duct, sore nipples, heavy and painful breasts, etc.

How Long Does Breast Engorgement Last?

Fortunately, for most nursing mothers, breast engorgement does not usually last. This is because your body will begin to adjust to the new condition it finds itself. This means that if your baby begins to breastfeed, the engorged breast will eventually go away. 

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If, on the other hand, your baby refuses to breastfeed, perhaps due to his/her likeness for solid food, you will eventually find out that your body’s hormone will regulate the production of milk so that the breast eventually begins to produce less milk.

Some Treatment/Relief Option for Breast Engorgement

Treating breast engorgement may depend on whether you are still nursing your baby or you just weaned him/her. Some treatment option you can try if you are still breastfeeding your baby include

  • Pumping out the breast milk either manually by using your hand or by using a breast pump
  • Feeding your baby more often as long as he/she is hungry
  • Warming your breasts with lukewarm water if they are leaking
  • Using an ice pack on the breasts to relieve swelling and pain if they are not leaking
  • Removing your bra
  • Changing the position with which you breastfeed your baby so that  other areas of your breast will easily drain
  • Massaging your breast  while breastfeeding your baby
  • Avoiding the use of formula feed or water between breastfeeding sessions
  • Taking drugs that have been recommended for the relief of pain

If you have just weaned your baby, your engorged breast will go away with time.

However, if you continue to feel pain and swollenness, you may try out any of the following relief methods.

  • Take medicine recommended for pain.
  • Use an ice pack to suppress pain and breast fullness.
  • Wear the right bra that will not make your breast sag
  • You can decide to wean your child gradually.

What if it Gets Worse?

Generally, breast engorgement that comes as a result of baby feeding patterns, such as an abrupt change in constant feeding or less feeding as a result of taking more solid foods, will go away with time. Some can get worse and lead to a condition known as Mastitis. 

Mastitis arises when too much milk is present in the breast, thereby resulting in the inflammation of the breast’s tissues. When these tissues get inflamed, they block the breast’s normal flow, causing the inability of your baby to feed. If this condition is left untreated, pus may begin to form in the breast, causing even more unbearable pain. If this is the case, you should immediately contact your physician. 


Knowing what to do when your breast is engorged is significant to your baby’s well-being and you. Whether you are an expectant mother, a nursing mother, or you are about to wean your baby, you will find out that the pain that accompanies breast engorgement may leave you with an uncomfortable feeling. 

Relieve yourself of these pains by giving more milk to your baby, pumping if you are a working-class mother, or trying to gradually wean your baby so that you will not experience too much pain. Always consult your physician if these pains of breast engorgement do not seem to go away.

Breast engorgement is not a severe medical condition if the handle on time and is quite normal for new mothers to experience during the early days and weeks of motherhood. Working-class moms should have breast engorgement once they resume work, which can be minimized using breast pumps.

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