Cabbage leaves are a must when making your grandmother’s famous coleslaw recipe, but did you know they can also help your boobs when you’re ready to stop breastfeeding ? During grandma’s time (and for generations before her), breastfeeding mamas have used these leaves to help support mamas with issues like breast engorgement, mastitis, and aid in weaning. Clearly, we know grandma’s home cooked meals are keepers, but does this age-old remedy really work, or is it simply a recipe for disaster?
What is the definition of weaning?
Weaning is the process of switching an infant’s diet from breast milk or formula to other foods and fluids. In most cases, choosing when to wean is a personal decision. It might be influenced by a return to work, the mother’s or infant’s health, or just a feeling that the time is right.1
Using cabbage leaves for weaning, mastitis, and engorgement
“The application of cabbage to remedy sore, engorged breasts, mastitis, encourage weaning, and stop production of human milk has been used from time immemorial,” says Jadah Parks Chatteree, a maternal child health Registered Nurse and International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant working in Los Angeles. Using cabbage leaves for weaning, mastitis, and engorgement is the go-to home remedy that breastfeeding moms continue to go to when they need relief from the aches that breastfeeding can bring.
Engorgement in breastfeeding moms
Jadah says, “Mild engorgement is when your breast tissue begins to fill and is ready to empty the volume of milk that has filled the ducts.” She goes on to say that if you’re experiencing more than a mild engorgement (if your breasts feel more like your chin or forehead and are painful to touch) you should engage a maternal child health professional.
Mastitis in breastfeeding moms
The National Institute of Health defines mastitis as “an inflammation in the breast, which may involve a bacterial infection.” Hard lumps, breast swelling, tenderness, and redness accompany this condition (along with a possible fever). Reach out to a medical professional if you have these symptoms.
Why does cabbage help with engorgement and mastitis?
It’s no secret that eating leafy green vegetables can keep you healthy, but who knew cabbage leaves can keep breastfeeding boobs healthy too? Why do cabbage leaves help with engorgement and mastitis? Jadah explains, “Red and green cabbage contains the unrefined mixture of ingredients sinigrin rapine, mustard oil, magnesium, oxalate, and sulfur heterosides. These ingredients are fundamental to buttress engorgement and mastitis, and providing anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties.”
When it comes to navigating the soreness these two breastfeeding issues bring, you can’t help but wonder, “Will cabbage leaves work for me?” When mom Sioned O. was breastfeeding her first child she says she had so much milk her breasts were huge and felt rock hard. “My midwife recommended cabbage leaves,” Sioned begins, “It was such a relief as soon as I shoved the leaves down my bra! An instant ‘ahhhhh!’” When Sioned was nursing baby number two, it wasn’t breast engorgement that called out the cabbage, but mastitis. The cabbage worked again. Sioned says, “Who’d have thought that the leafy vegetable would provide such relief! Amazing!” Cabbage to the rescue!
How do you use cabbage leaves for breast pain or weaning?
So, now you’re ready to try this home remedy, but how do you use cabbage leaves? Jadah says after speaking to your health care provider, chill the cabbage in the refrigerator for extra benefits and then wear the cool cabbage leaves in your bra (to keep in place) for no longer than 20 minutes, or until it begins to wilt. Once you’re done with those leaves be sure to discard them. Jadah advises not to use the leaves if your skin is broken or if you have an allergy to sulfa. “Drink plenty of water and electrolytes to restore minerals and remain hydrated,” Jadah says.
Do cabbage leaves really help with baby led weaning?
When Alyssa P’s. breastfeeding journey ended sooner than she expected, a nurse during her hospital stay told her about the leaves. “I sent my husband to the grocery store, threw the head of cabbage in the freezer provided for breastmilk storage, and a few hours later had a bra full of frozen cabbage leaves,” Alyssa says.
Alyssa learned a lot with that first head of cabbage like, getting rid of leaves as soon as they go limp, “Have you ever tried peeling frozen cabbage leaves?” Alyssa asks. She also remarks that her entire hospital room (and everyone in it) smelled like cabbage. But aside from these awkward setbacks, Alyssa says, “I think it helped! The frozen leaves felt soothing on my engorged boobs (how did I not know your boobs could feel so hot?!), and it helped to relieve some of the firmness.” Cabbage leaves for the win!
Do cabbage leaves dry up breast milk?
When Shawna T. had mastitis with her first child she says, “The cabbage leaves definitely dried me up quickly so I stopped using them after two days and regained my supply.” Then when weaning, Shawna used cabbage leaves twice a day for about three days to help dry up her milk supply for good. She also incorporated extended pumping sessions and says, “I fully believe cabbage leaves dry you up quickly.”
Jenny A. turned to cabbage leaves after a rough three months of breastfeeding, “It was gross, smelly, and ugly, but I was willing to try!” she says. She remembers the dark purple leaf sticking out of her bra in all directions. She and her neighbor’s husband had a good laugh at the leaf waving “Hello” from her shirt. “It was a rough week or so! But I was very relieved to have finished my breastfeeding journey,” Jenny says.
While many moms have good results using cabbage leaves, it doesn’t provide relief for everyone. Jennifer K. says that during her first week of diligently weaning, her breasts got clogged. “I felt like I was sucker-punched in little ol’ Louise. Cabbage is a damn lie,” she says. And Dori R. says she tried to use them when she developed mastitis, “I felt like the heat of my boobs cooked the leaves and I smelled like St. Patrick’s Day.” In the end, hot showers and manually kneading out the lumps worked best for her.
Are cabbage leaves good for breastfeeding mothers?
So, are you ready to add cabbage leaves to your recipe book to support engorgement, stop milk production, and ease the pain of mastitis? “I suggest cabbage leaves to support all of the previously mentioned reasons as an efficient and effective home remedy to manage engorgement and improve comfort,” says Jadah.
It’s certainly an affordable option that’s worth a try when your breastfeeding boobs are swollen and feel like they’re on fire. And if it doesn’t work—there’s always your grandma’s coleslaw recipe.
Jadah Parks Chatterjee is a nurse, lactation consultant and Bobbie Medical Advisor.