If you stop breastfeeding suddenly, your breasts may become full and sore and may leak milk. This is called breast engorgement. Many women have only mild symptoms that can be treated at home. But it can lead to more serious problems.
What can you do to help prevent engorgement?
It's best to stop breastfeeding gradually, if you can. If you have to stop breastfeeding suddenly, you can use a breast pump to remove the milk and slowly reduce your milk supply. A lactation consultant or other breastfeeding expert can help you choose a breast pump and teach you how to use it.
To help prevent engorgement:
Drop one pumping session every 2 to 3 days. For example, if you start out pumping 6 times a day, switch to 5 times a day, and space the sessions farther apart. Then in a couple of days, drop to 4 sessions.
It may take 1 to 4 weeks to stop.
In each session, remove just enough milk to make you more comfortable. Emptying your breasts will cause you to make more milk.
At present, there is no approved medicine that will reduce your milk supply and prevent engorgement.
What can you do if you have breast engorgement?
Many women have only mild symptoms that can be treated at home. If your breasts become engorged, use one or more of the following methods:
Use cold compresses to help reduce swelling. Place the compress on your breasts for 15 minutes at a time every hour as needed. You can use cold gel or ice packs, a frozen wet towel, or bags of frozen vegetables. To prevent damage to your skin, put a thin cloth between the cold compress and your breast.
Wear a supportive bra that fits well.
In addition to the non-medicine treatments, take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) to help reduce swelling and pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Breast engorgement will go away as your breasts stop making milk. Pain and discomfort should go away in 1 to 5 days.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerKirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology