Cabbage Leaves for the Treatment of Swollen, Painful Breasts

How to Relieve Breast Engorgement When You're Breastfeeding or Weaning

Hands holding green cabbage head: How to Use Cabbage Leaves for Breast Engorgement or Weaning
Cabbage leaves can help ease the pain of breast engorgement when you're breastfeeding or weaning.. Miha Pavlin / Getty Images

Cabbage Leaves and Breastfeeding

Cabbage leaves are used by some women to help reduce breast swelling and relieve the pain and discomfort that breast engorgement or weaning a baby from breastfeeding can cause. Researchers do not know if there is a property within the cabbage itself that helps to decrease the pain and swelling, or if the swelling goes down because the cabbage leaves are acting as cold compresses.

Either way, studies show that if your breastfeeding and you put cold cabbage leaves directly on your breasts, it's not only soothing, but it can be soothing can help lessen your breast pain and swelling. 

How to Use Cabbage Leaves for Breast Engorgement or Weaning

  1. Before you use the cabbage leaves to treat your breast engorgement, they need 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 leaves stains or discoloration 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.
  1. After you rinse the leaves, carefully cut out the stem from the center of each leaf. Once you remove the stem, the leaves will be able to fit nicely over your breasts without covering your nipples.
  2. Now, you can place the clean, cold cabbage leaves on your breasts. Wrap the leaves around your breast, but leave your nipples exposed. If you keep the leaves off of your nipples, it will help the skin around your nipples to stay dry and intact.
  1. 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.
  2. You can leave the cabbage leaves on your breasts for approximately 20 minutes or until they become warm. Then, remove them from your breasts. 
  3. Repeat as necessary.

When to Stop Using the Cabbage Leaves if You're Still Breastfeeding or Pumping

If you are still breastfeeding, or pumping for your baby, and just want to use cabbage leaves to help decrease breast swelling and relieve breast engorgement, you should stop this treatment once you notice that your breasts are feeling better, and the swelling has gone down. The use of cold compresses or cold cabbage leaves on your breasts can help to lessen breast swelling and engorgement, but it can also decrease your breast milk supply. If you continue to use cold cabbage leaves on your breasts after the swelling and engorgement are relieved, you could end up with a greater decrease in your breast milk supply than you wanted.

Cabbage Leaves, Weaning, and Drying Up

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


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 Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

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