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What to Know About Cabbage Leaves for Mastitis

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021

Mastitis is a painful condition that affects about 10% of breastfeeding women. Mastitis is especially common during the first few weeks of breastfeeding and during the weaning process. The weaning process is when you stop breastfeeding your baby — either because you decide to, or your child no longer wants to eat this way.

While this condition usually affects women who are breastfeeding, it can sometimes also affect those who are not, as well as men.

If you have mastitis, relief might be as close as your own kitchen. Cabbage is a popular and effective home remedy for mastitis. 

Symptoms of Mastitis

Before you reach for the cabbage leaves, it’s important to review your symptoms. 

Mild breast engorgement, when your breasts are filled with too much milk, will often resolve on its own with regular breastfeeding or pumping. Mild engorgement might feel like a dull ache, a heaviness, or a fullness in your breast. It might be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be too painful.

If you have mild breast engorgement, it’s often better to stay away from treatments that might limit your future milk supply. If you keep your milk flowing with regular nursing and pumping, you can expect mild engorgement to disappear without treatment. 

‌Sometimes, engorgement can become serious and cause inflammation. Inflammation of the breast tissue is called mastitis. Severe engorgement or mastitis can be very painful and you’ll want to take action to ease your symptoms. 

Symptoms of severe engorgement or mastitis include:

  • Breast pain
  • Redness and warmth in your breast
  • Unusual discharge from your nipple.
  • Swelling or a lump in your breast
  • A lessened milk supply in the affected breast
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms

Mastitis causes a lot of pain, which can disrupt or even halt your breastfeeding plans. If you have severe engorgement or mastitis, you can get much-needed relief with cabbage leaves.

The Benefits of Cabbage for Mastitis

Cabbage is an effective home remedy for mastitis. Cabbage is even more effective than ice packs or other popular treatments for easing painful engorgement. 

There are many benefits to using cabbage leaves for mastitis. Cabbage is:

  • Easy to use
  • Natural and safe
  • Inexpensive 
  • Effective at reducing pain and swelling

If you are experiencing pain from mastitis, cabbage can help you continue breastfeeding your baby longer.

The exact reason cabbage leaves are so effective isn’t certain. Cabbage, like all cruciferous vegetables, contains anti-inflammatory properties, which are likely to play a role. What is certain is that cabbage leaves have helped many women ease pain from mastitis and engorgement. 

How to Use Cabbage Leaves for Mastitis

If you are experiencing pain due to severe engorgement or mastitis, follow these steps to get relief:

  1. ‌Select a green cabbage. It should be fresh and not wilted. A chilled cabbage might feel nice, but a room temperature cabbage is just as effective. ‌‌
  2. Thoroughly rinse the cabbage to remove bacteria and other containments. Pat the leaves dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. 
  3. Prepare the leaves. You may remove any thick veins to help the leaf mold to the shape of your breast. You may also want to cut a slit or hole in the leaf for your nipple.
  4. If you find the cabbage leaves aren’t the right size or shape to cover your breasts, you can crush the leaves or grind them in a blender.
  5. Place the cabbage on your breast. Cover the entire surface of your affected breast with the chopped cabbage or whole leaves. Your nipples can remain uncovered.
  6. Keep the cabbage on your skin for about 20 minutes. A loose-fitting bra will help keep the cabbage leaves in place. 
  7. Repeat the above steps twice a day with fresh cabbage leaves until the engorgement eases.

You can expect to feel relief within 30 minutes of applying the cabbage leaves. Be sure to keep your milk flowing with regular nursing or pumping. This will minimize breast inflammation and help you keep up your milk supply. 

Risks of Cabbage Leaves for Mastitis

Avoid if you have allergies. If you are allergic to cabbage, you should stick to compresses. While cabbage leaves are effective in easing engorgement, it can also be helpful to alternate hot and cold compresses to lessen pain.

Do not apply cabbage to broken skin. Avoid placing the cabbage on any areas of broken skin, including cracked nipples. 

Watch your milk supply. As soon as you feel relief from your engorgement, it’s important to stop using cabbage leaves. The cabbage leaves can decrease your milk supply. 

You might need antibiotics. This is especially true if you have a fever or flu-like symptoms. Cabbage leaves can help reduce discomfort from inflammation and engorgement, but they can't treat a serious infection. If you have a fever or if your symptoms continue or worsen, you might need antibiotics. 

Show Sources

‌SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Healthy Children.Org: “Engorgement.”

American Family Physician: “Management of Mastitis in Breastfeeding Women.”

American Journal of Epidemiology: “Lactation Mastitis: Occurrence and Medical Management among 946 Breastfeeding Women in the United States.”

Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation: "Treatments for Problems."

Cleveland Clinic: "Mastitis."

Indian Journal of Community Medicine: “A Comparison of Cabbage Leaves vs. Hot and Cold Compresses in the Treatment of Breast Engorgement.”

International Journal of Nursing Studies: “Application of cabbage leaves compared to gel packs for mothers with breast engorgement: randomized controlled trial.”

Journal of Nutrition: “Cruciferous Vegetables Have Variable Effects on Biomarkers of Systemic Inflammation in Randomized Controlled Trial in Healthy Young Adults.”

JBI Library of Systematic Reviews: “The effectiveness of cabbage leaf application (treatment) on pain and hardness in breast engorgement and its effect on the duration of breastfeeding.”

Mayo Clinic: "Mastitis," "Weaning: Tips for breast-feeding mothers".

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