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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Breast fullness & breast engorgement

When you're breastfeeding, it's normal for your breasts to feel full, especially in the early days when your body still has not learned how much milk your pēpi (baby) needs.

Nearly all women's breasts feel full when their milk comes in, around three to five days after the birth. This is normal and should ease quickly. If your pēpi is breastfeeding well and often, your body will adjust your supply to the amount of milk your pēpi needs.

Engorgement happens when your breasts are too full and the areas around your nipples (areolas) become so firm that your pēpi finds it hard to latch. Engorgement can be very distressing and painful.

If your pēpi is breastfeeding well and is effectively removing milk, your breasts are less likely to become engorged.

Symptoms of breast engorgement

If your breasts are becoming engorged:

Preventing breast engorgement

Self-care for breast fullness or engorgement

If you notice any signs your breasts are becoming engorged, try these techniques to ease the discomfort:

If your pēpi struggles to latch because your breasts are too full and the areas around your nipples are too firm, try hand expressing a small amount of milk first. This should make the nipple area soft enough for your pēpi to latch.

You can also try a technique called reverse pressure softening to remove fluid from around your nipple area. This involves using your fingers to apply firm pressure on either side of the areola (the coloured skin around the nipple) pressing toward your chest wall for one to three minutes just before feeding. This Australian video shows the technique.

It's safe to use ibuprofen (for example, Nurofen) or paracetamol while you're breastfeeding, and this may help reduce your discomfort and pain.

If you continue to have difficulty with engorgement or your pēpi is not feeding well after trying these strategies, contact your midwife, lactation consultant or other health professional for more advice and help.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2021.


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Review key: HIBRF-24381