Cabbage Treatment for Engorgement

Submitted by Beth Nielsen, B.S.N., M.H.A., R.N. on December 18, 2018

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Severe engorgement can be avoided by feeding your baby frequently, using a deep latch and not restricting the time spent at the breast. Cabbage leaves may be used to help decrease persistent engorgement. Ice packs and cold compresses may also help. Some studies suggest cabbage may accomplish this quickly. If you are unable to get the baby latched on, start cabbage leaves, express your milk and give the expressed milk to the baby. Of course, get help quickly if the problem continues.

Cabbage leaves

Seven Tips to Treat Engorgement

  1. Use green cabbage.
    1. The darker green the leaves are, the better.
  2. Remove the outer darkest green leaves from the head of cabbage and rinse thoroughly.
    1. You may refrigerate the leaves after washing for even more cooling relief.
  3. Crush the cabbage leaves with a rolling pin (or 2 liter soda bottle) if the leaves do not take the shape of your breast.
    1. You can also cut off the tips of the leaf veins. 
  4. Wrap the cabbage leaves around the breast and leave until they wilt (about 20-40 minutes).
    1. Twice daily is enough. It is typical to use the cabbage leaf treatment two or three times in total. Some studies indicate that using them more will decrease the milk supply.
  5. Stop using as soon as engorgement is beginning to go away and you are becoming more comfortable.
    1. Note, avoid using warmth for an extended period of time as warmth can increase swelling and inflammation. 
  6. Ice packs placed on your breasts can be helpful to decrease swelling and add relief.
    1. Alternatively, bags of frozen peas or corn can also work well. 
  7. Some women get a large lump in the armpit area during this time. This is also breast tissue.
    1. Cabbage leaves may be placed in that area as well to help the lump go away.

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Beth Nielsen, B.S.N., M.H.A., R.N. is the Director of Women's Service's at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare.