- In This Feature
- Optimizing Breastfeeding
- What Are the Signs that My Body Is Making Milk?
- What Is Normal Engorgement?
- What if Normal Primary Engorgement Goes Untreated?
- What Is Abnormal Engorgement?
- How Do I Treat Engorgement?
- How Do I Build a Strong Milk Supply?
- Is There Anything That Will Interfere with My Milk Supply?
- The ABCs of Building a Milk Supply
What Is Normal Engorgement?
Just as the hormones of pregnancy signal your breasts to produce colostrum for your baby’s first meal, the shifting hormones brought on by childbirth lead to the experience of primary engorgement. This usually occurs three to five days after birth even if a mother doesn’t intend to breastfeed. How a mother contends with the onset of primary engorgement can affect her milk supply and her entire breastfeeding experience.
Tara, a second-grade teacher and new mother, handled this important phase in the development of her breastfeeding relationship just right. Tara taught up until her labor started on a Friday afternoon. Her labor quickly progressed and Carla was born early Saturday morning. Tara breastfed Carla in the delivery room and by Monday morning the new family was home. So far, Tara and Carla had sailed through their initial days as a breastfeeding couple. Suddenly, things changed. On Monday night, both of Tara’s breasts became very full. It seemed that from one hour to the next, Tara’s breasts grew bigger than she thought possible. Carla noticed the change and had difficulty attaching to the new shape of her mother’s breast. Instinctively, Tara massaged and softened her breasts to help Carla get a better attachment. Tara breastfed Carla often, and Tara could hear Carla swallow milk as she breastfed. When Carla detached after feeding, Tara was happy to see that there was breast milk in and around her daughter’s mouth.
Even with frequent feeding, Tara felt uncomfortably full. To further soften her breasts, Tara expressed a little bit of milk so that she was more comfortable. By the end of the first week following Carla’s birth, Tara’s breasts were full but soft. She frequently leaked breast milk and began wearing disposable nursing pads. By following her excellent intuition, Tara was able to navigate through this period of primary engorgement with her strong supply of mature breast milk intact. The uncomfortable swelling resolved and Carla was now able to easily feed from both breasts.
Tara’s experience of primary engorgement was normal, or physiologic. By breastfeeding Carla frequently, Tara prevented her breasts from becoming overly distended. However, even with frequent feeding, Tara experienced the sensation of uncomfortable fullness. Overabundance at this time is normal as your body learns to predict exactly how much milk your baby needs. As Tara experienced, your body will err on the side of too much milk as opposed to not enough. As expected, within a few days, Tara’s body self-regulated, and this period of engorgement passed.