Learn the facts

Engorgement is the period between the 3rd and 5th day after birth, when the mother’s breasts transition from producing a concentrated gut primer called colostrum to a full milk supply. Most women can’t feel that there is milk in their breasts in the first 2 or 3 days. However, usually on the 3rd to 5th day the mother’s breasts begin to fill and become heavy, swollen and a bit lumpy. During this time, a mother’s breasts can feel warm and sometimes leak. Engorgement usually lasts 1 to 2 days.  Over the next week, the breasts begin to soften as they adapt to the baby’s intake.

The period of engorgement is most comfortable when the baby is fed frequently; at least 8 times a day. Mothers can pump their breasts once or twice a day if her breasts still feel overfull after the baby feeds. Ice can be used to reduce swelling so that milk flow does not become restricted. Use the equivalent of two packages of frozen peas on one breast for 20 minutes. After icing, most mothers will be able to breastfeed or pump off milk more easily.

The quantity of milk used during engorgement will determine the amount of milk that can be produced for the rest of the baby’s breastfeeding experience. Skipping or holding off feedings, using pacifiers and supplementing with formula during this crucial time will lower the amount of milk that will be available to the baby over time.

Call the Breastfeeding Support Line if:

    • Your baby is suddenly having difficulty latching to the breast because it is too full or hard.
    • Your breast still feels just as tight and overfull after feeding or you baby does not seem satisfied.
    • You are not able to release any milk from your breasts with your breast pump.
    • Your breasts become very painful.
    • Your baby is very sleepy or difficult to arouse for at least 8 feedings a day.

NOTE: If you develop red areas on your breasts accompanied by a fever, call your obstetrician.

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