E is for Engorgement

We are celebrating our group prenatal class with the ABCs of prenatal classes. From A to Z let’s cover some common prenatal terms, E is for Engorgement, and what you can learn about them from our class.

Let’s change gears to after your baby is born. During pregnancy your body begins to produce your baby’s first food, a thick nutrient-rich milk called colostrum. Once your baby is born and the placenta detaches, colostrum gradually becomes mature milk. This process is known as your milk coming in and it generally happens between days 2-5. As your milk comes in, it’s normal for fullness to occur. Not only are you producing more milk but also the flow of blood and lymph increases to your chest. Your breasts may feel heavy, warm and even uncomfortable.

Unfortunately all of this extra fluid can cause engorgement. This is not just a standard fullness but rather a more intense set of symptoms that can include stretched skin that is red and/or shiny, hardness, tenderness and even pain. Engorgement is temporary and only lasts a day or so but it’s important to find ways to alleviate the symptoms. Excess fluid can change the shape of the nipple so engorgement can have an impact on your baby’s ability to latch which isn’t going to help the fullness situation!

You may also experience engorgement later in your breastfeeding journey. For example, when your baby starts to sleep for longer stretches or if you are away from baby for longer than expected without a pump! Generally your body readjusts without any issues but sometimes engorgement can lead to plugged ducts or mastitis if we aren’t mindful. It’s important to pay attention to what your body is telling you.

What you will learn about engorgement in our prenatal class

How to prevent or lessen engorgement

How to help your baby latch if you are engorged

Milk production: how it works and how to encourage (or discourage!) it

Interesting facts about engorgement

Breast size is not indicative of how much milk you can produce. Most people can produce enough milk for their babies provided they have access to general breastfeeding support AND support for difficulties that may come up such as latch. Breast size depends mostly on fat tissue and not the glandular tissue that produces milk so larger breasts don’t always translate into making more milk. Storage capacity can vary from person to person which may impact the timing of feeds but this too is unrelated to breast size.

With engorgement, cold is your friend. Be cautious with heat as it will promote inflammation in an already fluid-filled tissue. If needed only use heat a few minutes before feeding to help the milk flow. Cold green cabbage leaves or a cold compresses can feel divine between feeds. (Some people are concerned that using cabbage leaves too frequently will reduce your milk supply but I have not seen research to support this. If you are concerned stop using cabbage leaves once engorgement has resolved.)

Up next, F is for…
Back to D is for Due date.

Learn more about our prenatal classes.


The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International (Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Teresa Pitman)