The Truth About Cabbage & Engorgement

While many breastfeeding moms might be concerned with increasing and maintaining their milk supply, there are some moms that may be worried about how to decrease their milk supply. When you stop breastfeeding or try to decrease your supply, your breasts can become engorged with milk, causing swelling and pain. Cabbage is said to be helpful in relieving engorged breasts, but can cabbage really dry up your breast milk?

Why would anyone want to dry up their milk anyway? Turns out, there's a few reasons why and there can be some cons to doing it. Moms who are weaning their babies, moms with an oversupply of milk, or moms that need to urgently stop breastfeeding due to illness or lifestyle changes may find that the abrupt cessation of breastfeeding can lead to plugged ducts, breast infection, and painful engorged breasts, according to Kelly Mom.

So how can cabbage help? Romper spoke with Jennifer Jordan, Director of Mom and Baby for Aeroflow. She says that the idea of using cabbage leaves goes back about 100 years, and the common practice is to clean the cabbage leaves and place them in the fridge to cool. "Some moms swear by it," says Jordan, "but it is still unclear if it can actually halt your milk supply." She notes that over the years, there have been a few studies that examine the effectiveness of cabbage leaves for drying up breast milk, but none with conclusive evidence.

In a 2016 study by the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group, researchers found that in mothers with engorged breasts, chilled cabbage leaves were as effective as chilled gel packs in reducing swelling and providing relief. The study concluded that while cabbage leaves may be promising for the treatment of breast engorgement, there isn't enough evidence to support that they actually reduce or dry up milk supply.

Jordan says that even if the cabbage leaves don't actually slow down milk supply, the cool compress can relieve engorgement and soothe pain. Kelly Mom suggested along with cabbage leaf compresses, moms can use gentle hand expression (without fully emptying), wear a supportive (not restrictive) bra, and try a gentle breast massage to reduce engorgement and milk supply.

If you are just trying to wean, however, and not in a situation requiring you to stop breastfeeding immediately, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Michele Kunschke tells Romper that weaning gradually is an easier process, and it can prevent the risks of developing plugged ducts or mastitis.

So while the jury is still out on the technical effectiveness of cabbage leaves on milk supply, they do seem to help in relieving engorgement. Either way, if you are dealing with breastfeeding issues, it's a good idea to talk to a lactation consultant who can give you the right guidance, cabbage and all.