Why Does Breast Engorgement Happen?

August 27, 2019
Breast engorgement can be shocking and worrying for many women. Here's everything you need to know about the swelling that happens in the days following your baby's birth.

Breast engorgement is the result of breastmilk congestion in the breasts, after the birth of the baby. It happens because there’s more blood flow to the breasts, along with a high production of breastmilk.

As a result, this engorgement can be painful and swell your breasts. This is a common reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding faster than they’d hoped for.

When does breast engorgement happen?

Breast swelling happens naturally a few days after labor, when the breasts stop producing colostrum and start producing mature milk. It’s true it doesn’t feel nice, but it may mean your body is working properly. If you don’t have a fever too, then it’s something very common that’ll go away after a few days.

Luckily, this feeling of congestion is usually relieved during the first 2-3 weeks after labor when the breasts should start feeling softer, even if they’re producing a lot of milk. Congestion may make it harder to feed the baby.

To avoid breast engorgement, control how much milk your breasts are producing and don’t let them get too full. Feed your baby any time he or she shows signs of hunger or empty your breast with each feeding session. This can also help you reduce that feeling of congestion.

What causes breast engorgement?

Breast engorgement can happen at any time during the breastfeeding period, although it’s especially common during the first production of milk, usually 2 to 6 days after the birth of the baby. Bear in mind that after your baby arrives, blood and other fluids will start traveling to your breasts to prepare them for milk production.

In fact, at the time your body’s still figuring out how much milk the baby needs and sometimes it produces more than what’s necessary. In some cases, women can experience a little swelling, while others can see much more significant congestion. Chronic congestion can also make it difficult for the baby to correctly attach him or herself to the breast.

On the other hand, dehydration and intravenous fluids administered during labor can lead to fluid retention, which also makes it hard for the lymphatic system to function correctly.

If breast engorgement happens when the baby’s already a little bit bigger, it usually happens because the breasts haven’t been emptied correctly due to stress or lack of sleep. You can also experience breast engorgement if the child has trouble with breastfeeding or if he isn’t drinking enough milk, due to an illness or because he starts feeding on solids.

Why Does Breast Engorgement Happen?

What are the symptoms of breast engorgement?

There are some revealing signs that you should be aware of. The most common symptoms of breast engorgement are:

1. Swelling and breast sensitivity

First of all, it’s normal if your breasts get bigger after labor, but if they seem bigger than normal or they don’t return to their original size after breastfeeding, they might be full of blood.

2. Hard breasts

If your breasts are hard to the touch and you feel they can burst milk with the slightest touch, you might have breast engorgement.

3. A red area on the breast

You may notice a kind of bruise on your breasts. If you do, it might be a sign of infection. You should go to the doctor immediately.

4. Flat nipples

Lastly, if your nipples are flat it might be due to a build-up of milk in the breast. Don’t worry about excess milk, in a few days it’ll return to their normal size.

Why Does Breast Engorgement Happen?

Finally, remember that breast engorgement can lead to serious health problems. Go see your doctor immediately if you’re suffering from any of these symptoms. Also, if you also experience fever, or if the baby has trouble breastfeeding, you should go see a specialist as well.

 

  • La lactancia materna. Información para amamantar. Gobierno de La Rioja. Servicio de Promoción de la Salud. Edición 2014. [En línea] Disponible en: https://www.aeped.es/sites/default/files/guia-lactancia-2014_la_rioja.pdf
  • Hill, Pamela & S. Humenick, Sharron. (1994). The Occurrence of Breast Engorgement. Journal of human lactation : official journal of International Lactation Consultant Association. 10. 79-86. 10.1177/089033449401000212.
  • Mangesi, Lindeka and Therese Dowswell. “Treatments for breast engorgement during lactation” Cochrane database of systematic reviews ,9 CD006946. 8 Sep. 2010, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006946.pub2