Breast Engorgement

Breast engorgement commonly occurs one to seven days after giving birth. This condition typically results when breast milk comes in rapidly after giving birth and is not expressed quickly enough or when your normal breastfeeding routine is interrupted. It often leaves your breasts feeling uncomfortable or painful, firm, and warm to the touch.

What Is Breast Engorgement?

Engorgement is the extreme filling and swelling of your breasts that causes them to become hard, warm to the touch, and uncomfortable. It is your body's way of telling you that the supply/demand relationship of breast milk is out of balance. You need to express (get rid of) some of the milk produced -- and fast!
 
Breast engorgement is common one to seven days after birth, although it can happen later in the postpartum period. It seems to be more common in first-time mothers, with the likelihood decreasing with each subsequent pregnancy.
 

What Causes Engorged Breasts?

Breast engorgement can actually be seen as a good thing in the beginning, as it is a sign that your milk has "come in" and production is strong. The condition happens for several reasons:
 
  • Shortly after giving birth, milk comes in rapidly and is not expressed quickly enough. There is also breast tissue swelling that occurs early, which can worsen this early engorgement.
     
  • When your normal breastfeeding routine is interrupted and you cannot nurse or pump like usual.
     
  • When weaning your baby off the breast, you stop suddenly and don't give your body the time to adjust slowly.
     
  • If your baby's demand for breast milk drops suddenly due to illness or the rapid increase of solid foods in their diet.
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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