Breast fullness after breastfeeding

Why doesn’t my baby empty my breast?

Babies take as much milk as they need from the breast, and usually that’s about 70% of the milk available. Mothers who have a large milk supply tend to have full, firm breasts. As babies simply respond to their appetite, they may not be hungry enough to fully soften the breast. The fullness signals the breast to decrease production to match the baby’s demand. Occasionally excessive breast fullness after feeds is a sign the baby is not getting enough milk or the mother is not expressing effectively.

A) Describing normal breast fullness

The breast makes milk at a rougly steady rate, day and night. It also stores the milk.

Babies don’t fully empty the breast; they are not supposed to. The average baby takes about 70% of the milk available each day (Kent 2007). Babies take as much milk as they need at each feeding. Sometimes this means more milk, sometimes less; sometimes both breasts, sometimes only one. The baby simply responds to her or his appetite.

This also means that mothers may feel full after some feeds, for example:

  • At the first feed after a longer sleep, when the breast has more stored milk.
  • If the baby wasn’t all that hungry.
  • If the mother has a large milk supply.

Breast filling decreases over time.

B) Normal fullness with a large milk supply

Mothers with a large milk supply may have so much milk that they notice only a little softening with breastfeeding.

If you have too much milk, the frequent fullness signals the breast to decrease milk production over time. This means your milk production and the baby’s demand will soon be in balance.

References

Kent J. How breastfeeding works. J Midwifery & Womens Health. 2007;52(6):564-570