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Should I pump engorged breasts?

Breast engorgement is a common occurrence in breastfeeding mothers, characterized by swollen and painful breasts due to an overabundance of milk. This discomfort can make breastfeeding challenging and even painful. It’s important for new mothers to understand how to manage and alleviate engorgement to ensure a smooth breastfeeding journey. One question that often arises is whether pumping should be used to address engorged breasts. In this article, we will explore the topic and provide useful information on when and how to pump engorged breasts effectively.

Understanding Engorgement

Causes of Engorgement

Breast engorgement typically occurs in the early days after giving birth, as the body is still adjusting to the milk production demands of the baby. It is often triggered by an increase in blood flow and milk production. Engorgement can also be caused by factors such as infrequent or inadequate feedings, ineffective latch, or a sudden change in breastfeeding patterns.

Symptoms of Engorgement

Identifying the signs of engorgement is crucial for timely intervention. Some common symptoms include breasts feeling full and heavy, tightness and swelling, discomfort or pain, and a visibly enlarged, shiny, or firm appearance of the breasts.

Impact on Breastfeeding and Milk Production

Engorgement can have adverse effects on breastfeeding. The swollen and firm breasts can make it difficult for the baby to latch properly, leading to insufficient milk transfer and frustration for both the mother and the baby. Additionally, engorgement can interfere with milk production, as the excessive pressure can temporarily halt the flow of milk. This temporary decrease in milk removal can further contribute to engorgement and potentially lead to issues like mastitis or blocked ducts.

Managing Engorged Breasts

Self-Care Techniques

There are several self-care techniques that can provide relief from engorged breasts. Applying heat or ice packs to the breasts can help reduce swelling and alleviate discomfort. Massaging the breasts in circular motions before and during breastfeeding can also promote milk flow. Wearing a supportive and well-fitting bra can offer additional comfort and support. Surprisingly, cold cabbage leaves applied directly to the breasts can offer soothing relief as well.

Pumping as a Solution

Pumping can be an effective solution for relieving engorged breasts, but it is important to approach it with caution. The purpose of pumping in this context is to alleviate the discomfort caused by excessive milk accumulation and to establish a proper milk supply-demand balance. Pumping helps stimulate milk flow and ensures regular milk removal, which can prevent further engorgement and maintain milk supply.

Timing and Duration of Pumping Sessions

If you decide to pump when you are engorged, it is important to do it for short periods of time, usually around 5 to 10 minutes per breast. Pumping for too long can potentially worsen the engorgement or prolong its duration. It is recommended to pump after breastfeeding or immediately before the next feeding to achieve optimal results.

Precautions to Prevent Worsening Engorgement

While pumping can help alleviate engorgement, it’s important to take precautions to prevent exacerbation. Avoid pumping with a high suction level, as this can further aggravate the discomfort and potentially damage the breast tissue. Additionally, ensure that the breast pump you are using fits properly and doesn’t cause additional pain or discomfort. Seeking guidance from a lactation consultant or healthcare professional can provide valuable insights on proper techniques and precautions to take.

Proper Technique for Pumping Engorged Breasts

Obtaining a Suitable Breast Pump

Choosing a suitable breast pump is essential for effective milk removal and comfort. There are various types of breast pumps available, including manual and electric pumps. Consider your personal preferences and breastfeeding needs when selecting a pump.

Ensuring Proper Breast Pump Fit

A proper breast pump fit is crucial to avoid discomfort and maximize milk removal. Ensure that the breast shield or flange size fits correctly. Ill-fitting breast shields can cause pain or nipple damage, so take the time to find the right size for your breasts.

Step-by-Step Guide for Pumping Engorged Breasts

To effectively pump engorged breasts, follow these steps:

1. Create a comfortable and relaxing environment: Find a quiet and peaceful space where you can relax during pumping sessions. This helps stimulate letdown and promotes better milk flow.

2. Initiate letdown by hand expression or warm compress: Gently massage your breasts or apply a warm compress to encourage milk letdown before starting the pumping session. This can aid in faster milk flow and easier pumping.

3. Adjust pump settings to mimic baby’s sucking pattern: Use a breast pump with adjustable settings and start with the lowest suction level. Slowly increase the suction to a comfortable level that mimics your baby’s sucking pattern.

4. Use massage or compression techniques during pumping: While pumping, massage your breasts in circular motions to encourage milk flow and ensure all ducts are emptied. Some pumps have built-in massage features that can be utilized for this purpose.

5. Monitor and adjust pumping duration: Pay attention to how your breasts feel during and after pumping. IIf your breasts feel softer and more comfortable, you have likely achieved adequate milk removal. Adjust the pumping duration based on your comfort level and breast fullness.

Additional Measures to Relieve Engorgement

In addition to pumping, there are other measures you can take to relieve engorgement and maintain milk supply:

Nursing Techniques to Relieve Engorgement

Frequent breastfeeding or pumping is essential for relieving engorgement. Ensure that you offer your breasts to the baby regularly, even if they are not showing cues of hunger. Experimenting with different nursing positions, such as laid-back breastfeeding or the football hold, can also help with effective milk removal. Encouraging adequate milk removal during each feeding session reduces the risk of engorgement.

Seeking Support and Guidance

If you are struggling with engorged breasts or experiencing persistent discomfort, seeking support and guidance from a lactation consultant or healthcare professional is crucial. They can assess your breastfeeding technique, provide personalized advice, and address any concerns or complications.

Joining support groups for breastfeeding mothers is another valuable resource. Connecting with other mothers who have experienced engorgement can offer emotional support and practical tips for managing the condition.

Learning about proper latch and positioning is also important for preventing engorgement. A shallow latch or ineffective positioning can lead to inefficient milk transfer and subsequent engorgement. Educating yourself on proper latch techniques can help reduce the likelihood of engorgement.

Prevention of Engorgement

While engorgement is common, it is possible to take preventive measures to minimize its occurrence:

Establishing a Breastfeeding Routine

Establishing a consistent breastfeeding routine from the early days can help regulate milk supply and minimize the chances of engorgement. Frequent and regular breastfeeding sessions ensure proper milk removal and maintain a healthy milk supply-demand balance.

Ensuring Proper Latch and Positioning

Proper latch and positioning are key to effective breastfeeding. Ensuring a deep latch and using breastfeeding positions that encourage optimal milk transfer can prevent engorgement and ensure a comfortable nursing experience.

Avoiding Overuse of Pacifiers or Bottles

Introducing pacifiers or bottles too early in the breastfeeding journey can interfere with the baby’s suckling at the breast, potentially leading to engorgement. It is generally recommended to wait until breastfeeding is well-established before introducing these items.

Gradually Weaning from Breastfeeding

When the time comes to wean your baby from breastfeeding, it’s important to do it gradually. Abrupt weaning can result in engorgement and associated discomfort. Gradually reduce the number of breastfeeding sessions over a period of time to allow your body to adjust.


Breast engorgement can be a challenging aspect of breastfeeding, but with the right knowledge and techniques, it can be effectively managed. Pumping can be a useful tool in alleviating engorged breasts, but it should be done carefully, following proper guidelines and precautions. Seeking professional guidance and support is essential for overcoming engorgement and maintaining your breastfeeding journey. Remember, you are not alone in this experience, and with the right resources and support, you can successfully navigate through engorgement and enjoy the many benefits of breastfeeding.


  1. Breast Engorgement: Care Instructions
  2. Breast Engorgement: Symptoms and Relief
  3. Engorged Breasts – avoiding and treating
  4. How to Relieve Engorged Breasts
  5. 6 tips to treat breast engorgement while breastfeeding