Posted by Christiane Williams on January 10, 2012
Today I want to share with you a smelly little secret! It’s a natural cure for engorgement pains that also stops mastitis in its tracks and can help you when you need to wean suddenly while your milk supply is still plenty! It’s white CABBAGE!
I know this sounds weird, but read on and it might help you, too when you need it!
My history with cabbage:
I had given birth to my first baby about 2 days ago, when I fell asleep on the bed. I woke up an hour later and something crazy had happened: somebody had pumped up my breasts to basketball size! They were hard, they were steaming hot and they were HURTING! Engorgement had arrived! I was in agony, just the bra or a T-shirt touching my breasts was uncomfortable and in an ironic twist I now bumped into things with my super-boobs rather than my belly. I thought they sure were going to burst. And while my husband was quite enticed by the X-rated size of them there was NO way he was going to get to touch them!
As the daughter-in-law of a La Leche league leader and an avid reader of breast feeding manuals, I knew I needed to start breast feeding to relieve some of the pressure. Nursing helped a little, as did taking a hot shower, but the hard, bursting feeling was still there. Every movement of my arms painfully brushed the milk ducts (which to my surprise were swollen all the way into my arm pits) and even sitting (never mind sleeping) was uncomfortable. When I moaned about this on the phone to a friend in Germany, she said “Have you tried cabbage leaves?” I was taken aback. What did she mean? And then I remembered a little blurb about cabbage leaves in my German midwife book. Apparently it’s a very common recommendation in Germany to put cabbage leaves on your breasts to help with engorgement…
As I was desperate and would have tried anything, I sent the husband to the store to buy some white cabbage. I washed big leaves, crushed the stem with a rolling-pin (for comfort and to release the juice), wrapped my basketballs and put the bra over them to keep the leaves in place. Only half an hour later the relief was noticeable – as was the smell of wilted cabbage come from the cleavage! Ahhhh and Urgh! But I could have cared less about the odor at that moment. I tossed the leaves, the juice had done its job – two more sessions over the next 24 hours and I had survived engorgement with ease!
The rest of the cabbage leaves were put in the fridge (and some in the freezer) and in the coming months whenever I felt that a milk duct was clogged, I took a hot shower, massaged it and then put a cabbage leave on the spot. Worked like a charm every time!
So when I was pregnant with my second child, I bought a cabbage in preparation at week 38! I needed only one round of it after birth, engorgement seemed less severe this time around. However, the trusted cabbage came into play two more times during nursing: at about 4 months old, I developed mastitis (I think I didn’t let the baby empty the breast completely since I had to run after a toddler). While the antibiotics helped with the infection and the fever, the cabbage once again supported the clearing up of the clogged ducts! If I had paid more attention to my breast then my first born, I think I could have maybe prevented the whole mastitis with a cabbage leave in time…
The second use of cabbage leaves for number 2 was a little more unexpected: at 9 months he decided he was done with nursing. Refused the breast from one day to the other while stealing other kids bottles at play dates (a bit embarrassing, to be honest!). He would not latch on, pushed away the breast and did not even drink pumped breast milk. At day two of these antics, my boobs were once again full and hurting. After a week of pumping and offering the breast repeatedly, it became clear that he would not go back to nursing. So he had weaned himself, and I, for the last time, bought a cabbage and eased the pain of engorgement with my trusted smelly secret!
More cabbage information:
When I looked into the history and science behind green cabbage leaves, I discovered that it had been used for engorgement and other swelling (in sprains and broken bones) since the early 1800s. Research shows the common green cabbage (Brassica capitata) contains sinigrin (allylisothiocyanate) rapine, mustard oil, magnesium, oxylate and sulphur heterosides and has both antibiotic and anti irritant properties. While nobody knows exactly how these components work together, the theory is that they help decrease tissue congestion by dilating (opening) local capillaries (small blood vessels), which improves the blood flow in and out of the area, allowing the body to reabsorb the fluid trapped in the breasts. Cabbage may also have a type of drawing, or wicking action, that helps move trapped fluid. (This means it can also be used for Edema in the face, hand or feet for diabetic mothers).
Obviously cabbage leaves should NOT be used if you are allergic to cabbage or sulfa and also not on broken skin (leave cracked/bleeding nipples free).
Some people warn that excessive use of cabbage leaves might dry up the milk supply, but there is no scientific evidence for this, and since it most likely works on trapped fluid between the cells rather than the milk in the ducts, I would not worry about that!
To learn more about ways to ease engorgement (especially if weaning your baby), listen to PregTASTIC, Episode 246