Breastfeeding – engorged breasts

Breastfeeding, like parenting, can sometimes have its challenges – especially in the first few weeks after birth. One of the common problems women can experience is painful, engorged breasts and sometimes this can contribute to infection, known as mastitis.

A few days after the birth, the milk supply comes in. In some women this happens very quickly (often overnight) and their breasts may become swollen, hard, hot and painful.

What can you do about engorged breasts?

  • Feed your baby on demand until they have had enough.
  • If you have a strong 'let down' and milk pours from the breast during the feed, take your bra off and let it run out freely. You can catch it in a towel, cup or a sterilised container for freezing and using later.
  • Put your baby to the more painful breast first. Try using one side for each feed rather than offering both breasts. If your baby is still hungry offer the other breast.
  • Stand in a warm shower for five minutes before feeding. It is soothing and comfortable. Although is it generally not a good idea to express off excess milk by hand - expressing a little in the shower can make it easier for a very new baby to 'latch on' correctly.
  • Apply a cold pack after feeding or cabbage leaves which have been stored in the refrigerator applied over the whole breast can be very soothing!
  • Massage your breast lumps gently towards the nipple while feeding.
  • Do not give your baby any other fluids.
  • If your breasts are very painful, take some paracetamol. You may feel reluctant to do this, however, remember that being in pain makes establishing a healthy, satisfying breastfeeding pattern much more difficult.
  • Remember, there is no greater relief for engorged breasts than an enthusiastically feeding baby.

Support 

You can phone Plunketline on 0800 933 922 anytime day or night for advice about breastfeeding.

You can also talk to your midwife, doctor or Plunket nurse.

If you are still having breastfeeding problems, ask your midwife if you be referred to a lactation consultant.

Other groups to contact include La Leche League and your local Parents Centre

Online support
 Breastfeeding (NZ)

Lactation consultant website and Facebook Support Group Kellymom (USA)

Credits: Health Navigator team. Last reviewed: 17 Jun 2015