Breast engorgement when pregnant

Before giving birth, your body naturally begins to prepare for breastfeeding. During this time, breast engorgement, and even leaking can happen, although it might seem like it’s too early for that. It won’t get in the way of your ability to breastfeed after birth, and when you do give birth, it should ease up on its own, either after you start feeding your baby, or once bottle-feeding is established, and your milk starts to dry up.

What causes it?

After giving birth, the female body naturally produces milk – it is nature’s way of making sure that there is nourishment readily available for the newborn baby! Even if you plan to bottle-feed, you will still produce milk. Milk is released into the breasts and via lactation becomes available for a baby. Nipple stimulation from a shirt or bra can cause milk letdown, and with it a bit of leakage, and/or it will trigger the breasts to produce more milk. A baby’s cries can also cause milk letdown.

For engorgement or tenderness during pregnancy, even if your breasts start leaking, it’s a good idea to avoid pumping for relief, since nipple stimulation could trigger labor earlier than your body – or your baby – is ready for. Cold packs to bring down warmth and tenderness can help, though.

When your baby is feeding, you may want to use warm compresses before feeding, to stimulate milk flow and relieve some of the pain associated with breast engorgement. Cold compresses used after feeding can relieve even more discomfort. While cold compresses can be used at any time, however, it is probably best to stay away from warm compresses when you are not feeding as they cause milk letdown and more milk production.


Breast pumps or hand milk expression can relieve pressure associated with breast engorgement, though it does also encourage milk production, and should not be done during pregnancy. For women who are not nursing, wearing a tight fitting bra can work as a pressure bandage, of sorts, and relieves pain. Avoiding nipple stimulation can also help convince breasts that milk production is not needed.

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • “Breast Engorgement – Overview.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web.
Get the Ovia Pregnancy app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store