A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Ask an Expert: Engorgement

by Wendy Wisner, IBCLC

Fan Question:

“My baby is a week and 1/2 old. I wanted to breastfeed for a year. He is sleeping 6 hours at night and I wake up to sore engorged breasts. It is causing me to want to quit already. Will the engorgement stop?”

It is normal in the early weeks of breastfeeding for mothers to get engorged if their breasts aren’t emptied very frequently, or if a longer than usual stretch passes without nursing.  Some mothers are more prone to this than others.  In the first few weeks, your hormones are in overdrive, and many women produce copious amounts of milk, often more than their baby drinks. Things tend to even out after the first few weeks, when your milk supply meets your baby’s needs more precisely.

If your baby sleeps a long stretch like this, you have a few options.  The easiest thing to do is nurse the baby!  I know the old adage is “Don’t wake a sleeping baby,” and if your baby is gaining weight well, then I wouldn’t normally encourage you to wake him if he sleeps for several hours.  However, six hours is quite a long stretch for a baby that young.  It is normal for a baby of this age to nurse VERY frequently, about 10 times in 24 hours, with several nursing sessions happening in the middle of the night.  Perhaps this engorgement is your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to nurse!

If your baby has nursed plenty all day and you would prefer not to wake him, you can express a little breastmilk to make yourself more comfortable.  You can either pump or hand express the milk (here are some good links for hand expression).  If you hand express into a towel that you leave in bed, you don’t even have to get out of bed to express!

If you do end up expressing the milk, express just enough to relieve the pressure but don’t completely empty your breasts.  The more milk you take out, the more milk you make, so if you empty them each time they get overfull, you will continue to produce more milk than your baby takes in.

I know the first few weeks of breastfeeding can be intense and all-consuming.  I encourage you to trust your body, trust your baby, trust your instincts, and surround yourself with good support.

unnamedWendy Wisner is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), writer, and mother of two amazing boys.  In addition to her work with breastfeeding moms, she has published two books of poems, and a handful of articles about mothering and breastfeeding.  She blogs at www.nursememama.com.