There are 2 types of engorgement: primary and secondary. Primary engorgement typically occurs that first week after birth and is characterized by hard or lumpy breasts that may be hot to the touch, visible veins and an increase in breast size. These changes indicate that your milk is transitioning from colostrum to mature milk and you’ll likely notice that the breasts will “soften” after feeding, pumping or hand expression. Some ways in which to manage primary engorgement include warm compresses or showers, massage and efficient milk removal. Around 6-8 weeks postpartum, milk supply begins to regulate and your breasts will stop feeling so full between feeds. Oftentimes, people worry that this means that their supply is dwindling, when in fact, it actually signals that the body is becoming more efficient!
Conversely, secondary engorgement can happy at any stage and is typically the result of a poor latch or changes in the frequency of milk removal (e.g. dropping a feed, or skipping a pump sesh, weaning or when baby starts sleeping longer stretches). Some ways in which to help sooth the discomfort of secondary engorgement include the use of cool compresses, hand expression to reduce pressure and reverse pressure softening. As always, a lactation consultant can help you navigate either of these challenges and provide individualized support in real time!