Breast Engorgement: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Breast engorgement is the painful overfilling of the breasts that can occur during breastfeeding (sometimes called chestfeeding). It usually occurs when your breasts make more milk than your baby can drink or when you are unable to breastfeed or pump. It also happens when you stop breastfeeding your baby.

Breast engorgement can make it hard for your baby to latch on to your nipple. Your baby may then be unable to breastfeed. This makes the problem worse.

If you breastfeed or pump, engorgement should get better in a few days. If you've stopped breastfeeding, it can take longer. Over time, your body will stop making milk. This can take up to several weeks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself?

  • Try taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce pain and swelling. Or you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with discomfort. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your breasts hurt and feel too full, try hand expressing a small amount of milk just until they feel comfortable. But don't try to empty your breasts all the way. Releasing a lot of milk will cause your body to produce larger amounts of milk. This can make breast engorgement worse.
  • If you are breastfeeding, continue to regularly breastfeed when your baby is hungry.
    • Change your breastfeeding positions to help remove milk from all areas of your breast.
    • If your baby is having trouble latching, try hand expressing a small amount of milk before feeding. This can help soften your breasts to make it easier for your baby to latch.
    • If you have any problems with your baby's latch or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or midwife or a lactation consultant.
  • Try using a cold compress for pain and swelling.Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Wear a supportive bra that fits.
  • Avoid massaging your breasts. This can cause tissue injury and inflammation.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or midwife now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of a breast inflammation or infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, redness, or a color change on your breast.
    • Red streaks extending from the breast.
    • Pus draining from a breast.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or midwife if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.