Cabbage for Postpartum Breast Engorgement

    In 1994 the Food and Drug Administration recommended that the drug Parlodel which was often prescribed for mothers who chose not to breastfeed, should not be labeled for the suppression of breast milk production due to potential health risks. This left mothers with few options for relief such as ice, heat and binding of the breasts, all of which are uncomfortable and minimally effective.

    Over the last years, there have been several published studies assessing the use of cabbage leaves for relieving breast engorgement, either for women who breastfeed of for women who chose not to breastfeed.

    In 1999 the effect of cabbage leaves on breast engorgement and duration of breastfeeding was assessed by the "Cochrane Pregnancy and Chilbirth Group'. They reviewed the literature and concluded that the use of cabbage leaves may help women to keep breastfeeding after birth.

    It's not entirely clear why cabbage leaves would reduce breast engorgement, but the green cabbage plant contains a high concentration of sulphur, which is known to reduce swelling and inflammation in all tissues. Cabbage leaves supposedly help reduce milk supply and decrease the discomfort of breast engorgement.

    Here are some suggestions how to use cabbage leaves for reducing breast engorgement:

    • Peel off the large green cabbage leaves and wash and dry them ahead of time.
    • Some people suggest refrigeration of the leaves in containers or plastic bags, and the use of cold leaves, while others suggest using them warm or at room temperature.
    • Shortly before applying the leaves to your breasts, compress each leave slightly between your hand or with rolling pin to crush veins.
    • Place several leaves on your breast to cover all areas, including the outer areas
    • If the leaves are to too firm, and do not fit close to your breasts, you can place them very shortly into lukewarm water to soften them up. Make sure the leaves cool down before you place them on your breasts.
    • Put your bra on top of the leaves to keep them in place. To soak up leaking milk, use cotton pads between the leaves and the bra (not the leaves and the breasts)
    • Change leaves and throw them out as soon as they start to welt, which should be about every 2-3 hours or so.
    • Do NOT reuse leafs
    • Use the cabbage leaves for about 2 days or until the engorgement gets better..
    • If you plan to stop breastfeeding, reapply the leaves for several days until the engorgement is relieved
    • If you use the cabbage leaves to decrease engorgement while breastfeeding, you need to be cautious with prolonged use, because it may decrease milk supply. The best way to reduce engorgement while breastfeeding is breastfeeding itself.