Breast engorgement is very common for a mama in the first days after a baby is born. It occurs when the milk comes in (or technically transitions from colostrum to mature milk). When milk first comes in, your body is not sure how much milk your baby needs so it makes enough for triplets, just in case. This causes your breasts to swell to a previously unimaginable size. There’s typically a large amount a large amount of pain and tenderness as well. Cabbage cups are commonly recommended to help relieve the symptoms of engorgement. But do cabbage cups really relieve the pain and swelling of engorgement?
- Better for you – anything that can naturally and safely relive pain sounds pretty good to me
- Better for the Earth – all natural cabbage, from the Earth, and easily composted back when you’re done (and the leftovers can be made into yummy soup or slaw!)
- Saves money – a head of cabbage is cheap, and readily available at any American supermarket
- It works – pain is significantly relieved
- You need to wear some kind of bra to keep the cabbage in place if you plan on moving around, vs lying in bed and moaning all day
- You will smell like cabbage
At the end of February, we welcomed our third bundle of joy! What a blessing! I immediately started breastfeeding as I did with my other two babies. And, just as with the other two, my milk was coming in by the beginning of the second day. By the third day, my breasts were FULL and continuing to fill. Hello pain and pressure!!
Holy volleyballs! I had a serious problem. My ladies were doing their job: magically transforming blood into nutritious, sweet milk for my hungry babe. But they were heavy, and swollen, and super tender and hurt so, so much! (As I was quick to testily remind any child who climbed on me or husband who looked too interested).
I’d always heard that placing cold cabbage leaves on your breasts was supposed to help during this time. Everyone says so, and I’ve probably repeated the advice myself. But I’d never actually tried it, nor had anyone else I know. So I sent my husband off to find a head of cabbage.
The instructions for using cabbage leaves are pretty simple:
- Keep them cold – storing the head of cabbage in the fridge will do it
- Remove individual leaves from head of cabbage – try to keep them in one peice as much as possible
- Crush veins with rolling pin – I found this step unnecessary as the veins broke when removing the leaves
- Apply leaves to breasts – one leaf was just the right size for me, but your mileage may vary
- Replace when leaves wilt
The tricky thing here is keeping the leaves applied to your breasts when you don’t actually want anything touching them. I recommend a loose fitting tank top with a self bra which will have just enough support to keep the cabbage leaves in place. A slightly snug t-shirt might do the trick too (at this point ALL your t-shirts are probably snug in the chest!).
As the leaves warm to your body, you may notice the faint smell of coleslaw permeating the room. Don’t be alarmed, but that smell is YOU! It takes a little getting used to, but in my opinion, there are much worse things you could smell like! Once the leaves warm enough, they will start to wilt and you can replace them. Some articles warm not to use them too much for fear of them making your milk dry up. However, there is no indication that this has ever happened in the scientific literature.
Updated to add: Several commenters have noted that the cabbage DID work in drying up their milk. In all these cases they were deliberately weaning, and breasts were engorged because they were no longer nursing as often as usual. They also used cabbage compresses for a long, long time. The point of the article referenced above, and additional scientific studies referenced in the comments on this post is that cabbage alone for pain relief (while still feeding on a regular schedule) does not impact milk supply. All studies showed it offered significant pain relief and was preferred by mothers to ice packs.
So did they work for me? I’m happy to report that the cabbage leaves were very effective in relieving the pain I had been feeling. The cabbage did not seem to have an impact on swelling or milk production. My breasts were still as large and hard as volleyballs for the next day or two, but at least they didn’t hurt anymore! That was the most important part to me. Overall, I definitely recommend using cabbage leaves to relieve the pain from breast engorgement! You will still need an extra large shirt, but your girls won’t be hurting anymore.
Have you ever tried cabbage leaves for breast engorgement? Do you know of any other natural remedies that might work?
PS – You know I’m not a doctor, right? This information is based on my experience only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Your experience may vary. Please remember to speak with your healthcare professional about any medical concerns you have, and follow their recommended course of treatment. You can read additional fine print details here.