Breast engorgement is one of the main reasons women stop breastfeeding, or suffer from a reduced/short breastfeeding duration.1,2 Engorgement typically begins on the 3rd to 5th day after birth, and subsides within 12-48 hours if treated but can be avoided by getting the baby to latch on correctly.
If engorgement is not relieved at the proper time, the nipples become sore and cracked, as the baby attempts to latch on to the overfull breasts.
Without treatment, severe engorgement leads to blocked milk ducts and infection, called mastitis.
One nonmedical intervention, cabbage leaf treatment, has become increasingly popular as it is cheap, easily accessible, and is a natural remedy that some studies have found to be significantly effective .3
This article covers whether cabbage leaves work to relieve engorgement and pain, how to apply it, and precautions to follow while using it.
Do Cabbage Leaves Treat Breast Engorgement?
Different individuals have conducted various studies to examine the effectiveness of cabbage leaves in an attempt to understand why they relieve engorgement.
A randomized, controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the effect of cabbage leaves on mothers’ perceptions of breast engorgement and the influence of this treatment on breastfeeding practices. The subjects, 120 breastfeeding women 72 hours postpartum, were randomly allocated to an experimental group who received an application of cabbage leaves to their breasts, or to a control group who received routine care. The experimental group tended to report less breast engorgement. At six weeks, women who received the cabbage leaf application were more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively, 76 and 58 percent, and their mean duration of exclusive breastfeeding was longer. The greater breastfeeding success in the experimental group may have been due to some beneficial effect of cabbage leaf application or may have been secondary to reassurance and improved confidence and self‐esteem in these mothers.4
One hypothesis was that the cooling effect of cabbage was the reason for its effectiveness.
But, A study was done in 1995 to compare chilled gel packs with chilled cabbage leaves, in which both were equally effective in relieving pain and engorgement.
However, another study found that chilling makes no difference, even room temperature cabbage leaves were just as effective as chilled cabbage leaves.5
So we can deduce that there are healing properties in the cabbage leaves themselves. The green cabbage plant contains a high concentration of sulfur, which is known to reduce swelling and inflammation and may help the milk flow freely.
How to use Cabbage Leaves
Many mothers have found chilled cabbage to be very soothing. This remedy is pretty simple. All you need is a head of cabbage, a sink, a towel, and a bra. Here is how you can apply cabbage leaves for pain in the event your breast are sore from engorgement.
- Peel off the outer leaves of cabbage, then discard (or use for compost). Then pull off two inner leaves or as many as needed. Refrigerate the remainder of cabbage to keep it chilled for later.
- Wash the leaves thoroughly, pat dry with a towel, and crush leaves slightly to get juices flowing and break up veins.
- Place cleansed cabbage leaves in the refrigerator until the leaves are chilled.
- Remove chilled inner leaves from the refrigerator, place around the breast, leaving the nipples exposed.
- Hold the cabbage leaves in place with a bra.
- Leave the cabbage leaves on your breasts for about 2-3 hours at a time. Discard the wilted leaves and replace them with fresh, chilled cabbage leaves.
- Discontinue the cabbage treatment when the baby or pump provides needed relief.
Using Carbage leaves when breastfeeding
If you are still breastfeeding, use the cabbage leaf treatment in moderation.
Although this remedy helps to lessen engorgement and breast swelling, cabbage leaves are said to reduce milk supply in breastfeeding moms.
It is possible to dry up your milk supply. Once you have achieved desired results with the cold cabbage remedy, discontinue its use.
Using Cabbage leaves to wean and dry up milk
Weaning can take a lot of time and patience. It is not unusual to experience painful breasts several days after discontinuing breastfeeding. Engorgement, plugged ducts, and mastitis are common painful complications of weaning, especially when done abruptly.
You can use cabbage leaves for weaning, or to suppress an oversupply of breast milk. While there is no scientific proof that cabbage leaves help to reduce or dry up milk, many mothers have found their use to work for these reasons.
Cabbage leaves help relieve engorgement, which is a common outcome of suppressing lactation or weaning. Follow the steps above until milk has dried up.
Cold cabbage leaves are a very effective treatment for breast engorgement and pain. Cabbage itself contains a compound called sulfur that is known to reduce swelling and inflammation. However, you should take precautions since cabbage has been used by many moms to suppress breastmilk supply or weaning. If you are weaning from breastfeeding, then utilizing the cabbage for prolonged periods is fine.
- Eiger MS, Olds S. The Complete Book of Breast-feeding. New York: Bantam Books; 1999. Letters to the Editor Access this article online Website: Website: www.ijph.in Quick Response Code: DOI: 10.4103/0019-557X.146309 PMID: *** Cabbage Leaves and Breast Engorgement 292 Letters to the Editor Indian Journal of Public Health, Volume 58, Issue 4, October-December, 2014
- Lee WT, Lui SS, Chan V, Wong E, Lau J. A population-based survey on infant feeding practice (0-2 years) in Hong Kong: Breastfeeding rate and patterns among 3,161 infants below 6 months old. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2006;15:377-87.
- Arora S, Vatsa M, Dadhwal V. A Comparison of Cabbage Leaves vs. Hot and Cold Compresses in the Treatment of Breast Engorgement. Indian J Community Med 2008;33:160-2.
- Ji-Ah Song and Myung Haeng Hur, A Systematic Review of Breast Care for Postpartum Mothers, Korean Journal of Women Health Nursing, 10.4069/kjwhn.2019.25.3.258, 25, 3, (258), (2019).
- Roberts KL, Reiter M, Schustert D. A comparison of chilled cabbage leaves and chilled gel packs in reducing breast engorgement. J Hum Lactation 1995; 11(1):17- 20.