Cabbage Leaves for Breast Engorgement and Weaning

How to Relieve Pain and Breast Swelling

Hands holding green cabbage head
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Women use cabbage leaves to help reduce breast inflammation and relieve the pain and discomfort that breast engorgement, an overabundant supply of breast milk, or weaning a baby from breastfeeding can cause. Here's what you need to know about how it works and the step to using cabbage leaves on your breasts.

Does Using Cabbage Leaves on Your Breasts Work?

Many breastfeeding moms believe that placing cold cabbage leaves on the breasts is helpful. Researchers do not know if there is a property within the cabbage leaf itself that helps to decrease the pain and swelling, or if the inflammation goes down because the cabbage acts as a cold compress. Either way, studies show that if you're breastfeeding and you put the refrigerated leaves of a cabbage plant directly on your breasts, it's not only soothing, but it can also help lessen your breast pain and swelling.

How to Use Cabbage Leaves

Cold cabbage leaves are soothing. Here's how to use cabbage leaves to relieve pain when your breasts are sore from engorgement.

  1. Before you use cabbage leaves for engorged breasts, you want them to be cold. So, place a head of cabbage in the refrigerator. You can use green or red cabbage, but red cabbage is more likely to leave stains or discoloration behind on your nursing bra and breastfeeding clothing.
  2. Once the head of cabbage is chilled, remove it from the refrigerator. Peel off the outer layer of leaves, and throw them away. Then, pull off two of the inner leaves and place the head of cabbage back into the refrigerator, so it will be ready the next time you need it.
  3. In the sink, use cold water to rinse off the two leaves you just removed. You want to be sure that they are clean and free from dirt, pesticides, and residue.
  4. Remove excess water from the leaves by gently patting them dry with a clean towel.
  5. After you rinse the leaves, carefully cut out the stem from the center of each leaf without cutting it into two pieces. You want to keep it as one piece with a slit down the middle. Once you remove the stem and cut the slit, the leaves will be able to fit nicely over your breasts without covering your nipple.
  1. Next, place the clean, cold cabbage leaves on your breasts. Wrap each leaf around each breast, but leave your nipples exposed. By keeping the cabbage off of your nipples, the skin around your nipples will stay dry and intact.
  2. Hold the cabbage leaves in place on your breasts the same way you would hold a cold compress. Or, you can wear a bra to keep the leaves in place for you. If you're worried about leaking, put a clean, dry breast pad over your nipple on top of the cabbage leaf to soak up the breast milk.
  3. You can leave the cabbage leaves on your breasts for approximately 20 minutes or until they become warm. Then, remove them from your breasts.
  4. Throw away the wilted leaves and use fresh ones the next time.
  5. Repeat this process until you begin to get some relief and feel better.

If You're Still Breastfeeding or Pumping

If you are still breastfeeding or pumping for your child, and just want to use cabbage leaves to help decrease breast swelling and relieve breast engorgement, be careful not to overdo it. Once you notice your breasts are feeling better, and the swelling has gone down, stop using the cabbage on your breast.

While the use of cold compresses or cold cabbage leaves does help to lessen breast swelling and engorgement, it can also lower your milk supply. If you continue to use cold cabbage leaves on your breasts after you relieve the swelling and engorgement, it's possible to end up with a greater decrease in your breast milk supply than you were expecting.

Using Cabbage Leaves for Weaning and Drying Up

If you're weaning your baby or you want to dry up your breast milk and suppress lactation altogether, you don't have to worry about the cabbage leaves treatment causing a low breast milk supply. You can continue to use the cabbage leaves on your breasts for as long as they are helpful.

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Article Sources

  1. Boi B, Koh S, Gail D. The effectiveness of cabbage leaf application (treatment) on pain and hardness in breast engorgement and its effect on the duration of breastfeeding. JBI Libr Syst Rev. 2012;10(20):1185-1213.  doi:10.11124/jbisrir-2010-691

  2. Disha A, Singh A, Suri V. Effect of chilled cabbage leaves vs. hot compression on breast engorgement among postnatal mothers admitted in a tertiary care hospital. Nursing and Midwifery Research Journal. 2015; (11)1.

  3. Lauwers J. Quick Reference for the Lactation Professional 2nd Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning. 2016.

Additional Reading

  • Arora S, Vatsa M, Dadhwal V. A Comparison of Cabbage Leaves vs. Hot and Cold Compresses in the Treatment of Breast Engorgement. Indian Journal of Community Medicine. 2008 Jul 1;33(3):160.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
  • Sagar N, Kaur J. Efficacy of Cabbage Leaves in Relief of Breast Engorgement among Postnatal Mothers. International Journal of Nursing Education. 2013 Jul 1;5(2):76.