How To Sleep Comfortably With Engorged Breasts: 9 Best Strategies

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

If your baby begins sleeping through the night, you may want to consider stopping breastfeeding at night. However, this may lead to breast engorgement.

Breast engorgement happens when you don’t empty your breasts completely and leave too much milk in your breasts for too long.

As a result, you may feel uncomfortable, your breasts may be stiff, and you may even have some nausea. Here are some ways to sleep better at night as your baby sleeps through the night.

1. Try Lying on Your Side

If breast engorgement makes you uncomfortable while you sleep, try different sleeping positions that don’t put pressure on your breasts.

Instead of lying on your stomach or back, sleep on your side with a pillow propped under you. Sleeping slightly elevated can also relieve the pressure, so having that pillow under you can help.

2. Sleep Only Slightly Reclined

Besides sleeping in a different position, sleeping reclined can help ease the pressure off your breasts. It’s best to only have a slight recline.

Sleeping fully on your back can feel suffocating while sleeping upright can make you feel full. Prop yourself up with a pillow, towel, or blanket to get the recline you need if your bed doesn’t adjust.

3. Wear a Nursing Bra to Bed

Breast engorgement can make your breasts feel full and heavy. If you don’t normally wear a bra at all to bed, it may be more comfortable to wear a nursing bra so you have some support.

Make sure you wear one that isn’t too fitting, or it could feel like it’s choking your breasts.

4. Pump Just Until You’re More Comfortable

The best way to find relief from breast engorgement is to pump, completely emptying the breast.

However, if you’re trying to drop night feedings, you shouldn’t totally empty the breast, or your body will continue to make milk at night. Eventually, your body will take the hint that your baby doesn’t need milk in the middle of the night anymore.

If your breasts are extremely uncomfortable, pump a little bit until the pressure has been relieved.

5. Apply Cold Compress or Cabbage Leaves

Cabbage leaves have been known to relieve engorgement among breastfeeding mothers.

Put some cabbage leaves in the refrigerator in advance to wear at night. When it’s time to go to bed, put the cabbage over your breast leaving the nipple exposed.

Let it sit until the cabbage leaves are warm, around 20 minutes, and then clean your breasts. You can also use gel or ice packs in the middle of the night to treat engorgement and reduce swelling.

6. Take a Warm Shower or Bath

A warm shower or bath helps stimulate the letdown reflex and relieves engorgement pain.

While running the warm water on your breasts for a few minutes, you can gently massage your breasts with your hand. Taking a warm bath can also help you relax before bed.

7. Put a Towel Under Your Body

Besides pressure and discomfort, breast engorgement also causes leaky breasts in some mothers. It’s definitely not comfortable to wake up in the middle of the night because your bed is wet with milk.

In addition to offering a little recline to help the pressure under your body, a towel can also collect any milk you leak while sleeping.

8. Do Hand Expressions Before Going to Bed

Emptying your breasts with a pump while your baby sleeps at night is not ideal for relieving engorgement as this signals the body to continue making milk at that time.

Instead, you can express a small amount of milk with your hand to ease some of the pressure without stimulating larger amounts of milk production.

Massaging your breasts with your hand won’t boost your milk supply, but it will stimulate the letdown reflex enough to get rid of excess milk and pressure.

9. Wear Comfortable Clothes

Besides wearing a loose-fitting nursing bra, it’s also helpful to wear fresh, clean, loose pajamas when you go to sleep.

The less pressure you put on your breasts, the better. Pressure on your engorged breasts can cause pain and leaking. It’s also nice to have clean, fresh pajamas to give your senses a break.

How Long Does Engorgement Last?

Engorgement usually lasts only a few days, especially if you do what you can to take care of yourself.

Pump or feed often during the day, and wean slowly at night to help prevent engorgement. Take a warm shower, and express a little milk with your hand to relieve engorgement.

Under the care of your doctor, you may also be able to take supplements, like sage tea or peppermint oil, to help reduce your supply.

How Much To Pump To Relieve Engorgement

The exact amount of milk you need to pump to relieve engorgement depends on your comfort level and the amount of milk your breasts normally make.

To relieve engorgement, you just need to pump until your breasts feel less full. You don’t have to empty the breast, and you actually shouldn’t if you’re trying to wean.

Emptying your breasts signals to your body that it’s time to make more milk for your baby.

Will My Milk Supply Decrease When Baby Sleeps Through the Night?

Yes, your milk supply will decrease when your baby sleeps through the night, but if you’re not completely done with nursing your baby during the day, your body will continue to make the milk your baby needs.

Your body can adapt to make enough milk according to the time your baby gets hungry and the amount your baby normally takes in during a feeding.

As a result, you don’t have to worry about your supply completely drying up when your baby sleeps through the night, especially if you continue regular feedings during the day.

Can I Go 8 Hours Without Pumping at Night?

Yes, you can go eight hours without pumping at night if your baby is older than three months and is gaining weight according to schedule.

If you’re planning on night weaning, drop one feeding every few days to avoid breast engorgement, especially if you’re used to feeding your baby multiple times in the middle of the night. 

Closing Thoughts

Breast engorgement is a common result of night weaning, but you can sleep comfortably with a little preparation!