What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is engorgement?

For the first few days after giving birth, a new mum’s breasts remain soft and will produce colostrum. This first milk, available in just the right amount, is rich in immunity that protects the baby.

What are the symptoms of Engorgement?

In the following days after the birth, the breasts will become full, firm, warm, and sometimes tender as the milk comes in. When this happens, the breasts can become engorged. This is a normal process and varies from mum to mum. Over time when breastfeeding on demand, the milk supply will regulate to the needs and demands of the individual baby. However - if the baby is not latching on properly or feeding frequently enough, the breasts may become too full. This reduces the elasticity of the breasts and nipples.

When the breasts are too firm, it’s harder for a baby to grasp enough tissue to latch on well. They may suck too hard trying to pull in the breast tissue, which can lead to sore nipples. If poor latch results in ineffective emptying of the milk, the resulting build-up can cause breast engorgement to become severe. The breasts may become red and painful. Some mums can also develop a temperature. (A temperature can also signal infection, so it needs to be investigated quickly).

Severe engorgement may interfere with milk production. The milk left in engorged breasts releases chemical signals that tell the body to reduce milk production. If unrelieved, prolonged engorgement can ultimately contribute to reduced milk supply.

What are the treatments and remedies of Engorgement?

Put baby to the breast as soon as possible after birth.

Once the milk comes in, breastfeed on demand to prevent over fullness.

Ask for help from your health professional if you feel that the baby might not be latching on properly.

If a feed is missed because the baby is still asleep, express milk using either hand expression or a pump.

Warm the breasts before feeding. There are products on the market which can be either warmed up or chilled which can help.

Ask your health care professional about medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to reduce pain and inflammation.

A well-fitted, supportive nursing bra makes some mums feel better. Others prefer to go bra-less if they have engorgement.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net