Engorgement - Painfully Full Breasts

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Painful engorgement since 3-mo-old started sleeping thru the night

Sept 2004

I am currently exclusively breastfeeding my 3-month-old baby. He has always been a good sleeper, and recently he has begun sleeping all the way through the night. This can be anywhere beginning 9:00-11:00pm to ending 4:00-7:00am. The problem is that I wake up with deeply painful, engorged breasts and a bad bachache each morning. We get back into a nice feeding rhythm during the day, every 3 hrs or so, and the pain goes away by mid- day. My baby seems happy & healthy, but this long stretch at night just makes me feel terrible in the morning. I would hate to wake him up to feed him, since it seems to be such a gift that he has begun to sleep -- I am especially non-functional with no sleep, and have trouble getting back to sleep once I wake up. Also, I have another very active child to take care of, too, so being alert is important. This did not happen with my first child. Do I begin substituting a bottle at some point during the day? Wake him up? Should I pump at some time during the day or night? Has anyone been in this situation and found a solution that worked for them? Thanks for your advice! ---Heather

Sorry about your pain but consider yourself really really lucky to have such a good sleeper! Many babies can sleep through the night once they reach 11 lbs but many do not. No need to wake your baby.My advice to you is pump sometime before you go to bed. Eventually your body will adjust to this new schedule and eventually you won't have to pump during the night. Engorgement can lead to clogged ducts which can lead to mastitis, a painful infection of the ducts. Believe me, you don't want to go down that path! Relax. Go pump. And soon you'll all be getting a good night's sleep. Envious Mom

Hi - your body and boobs should soon get used to your baby sleeping longer at night. My son is now 5 months and I went through similar painful nights as he was beginning to sleep longer. It helped me to pump just a little (a couple of ounces) to relieve the engorgement. I don't think you need to substitute any breastfeeding to a bottle during the day - I think in a few days your body will be making the right amount of milk at the right times. Good luck, Cathy

My son also started sleeping through the night early (at 2 months). Count yourself lucky! I also woke up for several mornings with painfully engorged breasts. Wait a few days, and your milk supply will adjust. It just takes a few days of him not nursing at night. Don't pump at night... it will keep your body from adjusting. Good luck!

The thing with sleep is just when you think your baby has it down, then the patterns change all over again. After an all time peak of 6 hours in month 2, my baby couldn't string more than 2 hours together from month 3 to month 6. Then all of a sudden she started sleeping for 4 hour stretches. Then at 9 months she was only waking up once at night. Then back to waking up twice a night. and so on. Hang it there, it does get better. (and then worse, then better, . . .

Full breasts at night since 6-mo-old is sleeping longer

June 2004

Our 6 month baby is starting to sleep for longer stretches at night. After sleeping for only 2-4 hours at a time, she is now up to 7-8 hours at a time. While this is wonderful news, I am now wondering what to do about my discomfort from overfull breasts in the middle of the night. I have been waking up and pumping a small amount to relieve the pain. Will my body adjust with time? I am concerned about developing plugged ducts, etc. Please share your experiences with me. thanks! amy

You need to stop pumping at night! That just trains your body to produce more milk at that time. If you can stand the pain for a few nights, your body will naturally adjust to your baby's new rhythm and produce less milk at night. It only takes a couple of days. And by the way, congratulations on your baby sleeping through the night! mother of two

Pumping will only prolong your problem...as its a supply and demand system. If you just live with the discomfort for a few nights, your body will automatically adjust and stop making so much milk at night. Rebecca

Stop pumping! That will only make matters worse. Your breasts will adjust to the new routine in a few days. In the meantime, you might want to sleep on a towel in case of leaks. And enjoy your sleep!

Breastfeeding is about supply and demand, so the more the demand (baby sucking/pumping), the more milk you make. It takes about 24 hours for your body to respond to either a request for more (a hungry baby, frequent feeds, or pumping) or a decrease in demand (baby is bigger, can sleep longer). Your body will get used to whatever your baby asks for, but there is about a 24 hour lag-time until that's accomplished. So, stop pumping at night, let your baby nurse long and full when s/he does, and tough it out for a couple of nights. It's not so bad. You can use ice packs (or cold cabbage leaves)to help reduce swelling, tylenol if it's really painful. Your miraculous body will adjust to this, too. Good luck. Bonnie

Do not depair! Your body will adjust. Try to get through the intial mights without pumping in the middle of the night. You may want to limit your fluid intake before going to bed; feed your baby right before she goes to sleep; wear a bra with nursing pads so you don't leak on the bed (very uncomfortable); take Motrin to reduce swelling; place a refrigerated large piece of cabbage inside your bra over your breast to reduce inflamation.There is a chemical in the cabbage that really does help. anon

Your milk supply will adjust. Try to go a few more hours each night between pumping, and eventually (after 4-5 days) you should be able to longer, and soon the whole night. Our daughter sleeps 9-10 hours and now I feed her at night, and in the AM, pumping right after the morning feeding to pump off any excess milk. My daytime milk supply has stayed fine and I no longer feel like I'm going to burst first thing in the morning. Happy sleeping!

yes, your breasts will adjust with time. For now, continue with what you are doing, pumping a little to relieve stress but not emptying them out. anon

Yes, your body will adjust in time. And the more you pump, the longer it will take, because by pumping you're telling your body that the extra milk is needed! If you don't need the addition to the freezer stash and you're not experiencing real pain, try going without the pump; loose, comfortable clothes at night and a little massage in the morning shower will help you avoid any plugs. If your baby's new pattern continues, it shouldn't be more than a week or so before you are no longer getting engorged. Holly

How to relieve painful engorgement after weaning

Sept 2003

After nursing for a year, I had the opportunity to wean my son after traveling without him for a family emergency. He is taking a formula quite happily, and I am grateful that the end is in sight, however I am not enjoying my painful breasts.

Can anyone recommend the best way to quickly end my milk production? Is it better to pump a little bit twice a day just to relieve some of the pressure, or should I just suffer with rock hard humungo breasts (do I risk infection if I do this?). It would help to have some idea of time frame for either option.

Thank you. Susannah

PS. Please no lectures on how it's too soon to stop. Although the physical pain may be annoying, Im emotionally very comfortable with this decision.

I had the same problem as you, I waited a week, thinking that my body would stop the production. After a week, I pumped a very small amount, until my breast felt comfortable. My body adjusted, the production of milk ended and I felt very comfortable. The trick is to pump just a little. Good luck, I hope it works for you. Veronica

Pump just enough to relieve the engrogement but no more than that, as often as you need to for comfort. Use green cabbage leaves in your bra throughout the day. Jen

This is the only way to safely and comfortably reduce your milk supply/production. When you feel that your breasts are full to the point of uncomfortable you need to pump to comfort. That is usually 2-3 minutes. The body re-evalutes the amount of milk produced according to how much is left in the breast. You do risk infection if you try to suffer through engorgement. If you just pump from uncomfortable to managable your body will start to make less milk. Every woman responds differently. Some downgrade in production quickly and will see a difference every day and some do not respond as quickly...but if you only remove small amounts until you are comfortable you will make less over time. Two things you can do to speed up the process. Drink Sage tea available from the health food store. Buy a head of cabbage and put cold leaves in your supportive (not tight fitting) bra until it wilts, then replace. Cabbage has drawing properties and the cold is soothing to the tissues. You can also take an anti- inflammatory to keep the swelling down. For more info call your local La Leche League Leader. East Bay referral line is 510-496- 6009. anon

Go and pump! Right now, relieve those full breasts! Basically the way to stop producing milk is to wean yourself from the baby (or the pump) slowly. When I did it, I went from pumping 6 times a day to 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to once, to once every 2 or 3 days, to once a week to none. It took about 2 weeks but I never had a problem with pain. Given that you hadn't pumped for a while, I don't think you need to do the multiple times a day one, just go and pump whenever your breasts feel full. anon

Hi- to answer your question, you have to do it gradually over time. Even if he isn't BF still, every day over a week or two you will have to pump a couple times a day and gradually reduce the number of pumpings until its one a day and also reduce the time you pump at each sitting until finally there is nothing.... so gradual is the way to go or risk painful infections down the road if you don't. Shaana

Don't keep pumping. Wear a tight bra (or 2 bras if you don't have one tight enough), don't touch or stimulate your breasts, don't stand under a hot shower. You'll be uncomfortable for a few days but fine by the end of the week! Good luck! Debbie

My tried and tested method stems from the old method of binding. I put on one of my pre-pregnancy sports bras and wore it night and day. 24hours for at least 7 days and you will defineately see a difference. I used this method after both of my children and was back to my usual breast size in no time. Good luck. Deborah

Sage tea works wonders! Go to Whole Foods and get some bulk sage (yes, the herb). Make two to three infusions a day of 1 tablespoon/1 cup hot water and you should see some results soon. Best of luck! laurel

Try cabbage leaves. Don't know why it works, but it does. When I weaned my daughter, I was seriously, painfully engorged. A lactation consultant told me to get cabbage leaves and slightly crush them and wear them in my bra. They relieved the pain. She said you can't do this for initial engorgement after birth because it stops milk production. I walked around with cabbage in my bra for 2 weeks!! hengel

You will shriek with laughter and think I am nuts, but I swear this works, and some hospitals use it for new moms who do not wish to nurse and need to stop the milk production. Put cabbage leaves in your bra. That's right. Buy a head of cabbage, and stuff some in your bra, and change the leaves when they become wilted. Cabbage contains something powerful to stop milk production. I used it while weaning over the summer, and it was painless. You can stop laughing now! PS- it wouldn't hurt to pump just enough to relieve the pressure, not too much of course. You don't want to stay rock-hard and risk a plugged duct. Good luck. Hope this helps

The only thing that ultimately worked for me was low-dose birth control pills that my doctor prescribed for the sole purpose of decreasing my milk production. My situation was a little different from yours in that because my son would not latch on, I was pumping four to five times a day, totaling 35-40 oz. per day (and bottle feeding w/the breastmilk). After five months of this grueling schedule, I had had it and was ready to start weaning. Unfortunately, I could only get production down to half the volume via mechanical methods: reducing frequency of pumping (which resulted in two infections and painful, engorged breasts), binding breasts (no fun at all) and icing them (also no fun). On the BCPs, my production dramatically decreased to just 8-10 oz per day within one month, and before the end of the second month on BCPs, I was finished. Wish I had done this sooner, and, according to my OBGYN, giving my son the pumped milk while taking the low-dose estrogen was perfectly safe. Best of luck to you. anon