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Can Cabbage Leaves Help Breast Engorgement in Breastfeeding Moms?

I struggled with low breast milk supply, but some breastfeeding moms struggle with milk oversupply and breast engorgement. Breast engorgement is the over-filling of the breasts with milk. Engorgement causes hard, painful, and tight breasts.  This can result in difficulty breastfeeding.   Difficulty with breastfeeding can then worsen engorgement if the breasts are not drained of milk.   

It is extremely common, up to 72% of women report some level of tenderness especially during the first five days after birth when their milk “comes in”.  Often in the immediate postpartum period, onset of lactation can also cause tissue swelling which contributes to engorgement symptoms. 

Engorgement typically only lasts a day or two, but can be very uncomfortable.

Relieving Engorgement Symptoms

The most important way to decrease the uncomfortable symptoms of engorgement is adequate removal of milk from the breasts.  Establishing regular emptying and filling of the breasts will help ease engorgement. 

How Do Cabbage Leaves Help with Engorgement?

Cabbage leaves contain a sulphur compound that has antiseptic, disinfectant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce pain and swelling and improve milk flow.

Cabbage leaves should be clean and chilled before application.  Multiple leaves can be applied to cover the entirety of the breasts.  In one study, they were left on for up to 2 hours, and then removed and more reapplied 15 minutes later if needed.  

Cold cabbage leaves have been shown to reduce both pain and hardness of engorged breasts.  

This post was co-authored by Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP.

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