Cabbage leaves for engorgement?

I am an RN and mom of three who strongly believes in cabbage leaves for engorgement. I also found them very helpful for sore cracked nipples (healed within 36 hrs). My problem is where I work, the head nurse and a lactation consultant both will not even consider their use. They feel they have no value! Can you possibly steer me towards some info that supports their use?? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!!


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Cabbage leaves are a very old remedy that has received much renewed interest from lactation professionals over the past 10 years. Though admittedly, there is not a lot of research on the effectiveness of using cabbage leaves to treat engorgement, they have been used and recommended for many mothers in hospitals all over the country. From our observations and mother's reports, it does seem to be quite effective at relieving engorgement, while having little chance for side effects.

To treat engorgement, place a cold cabbage leaf (see preparation methods below), covering each breast, and securing inside the bra. Change leaves when wilted, or approximately every two hours. As engorgement subsides, discontinue use. Continued use can dramatically reduce the milk supply.

When using cabbage leaf compresses, it can make it easier if you prepare enough leaves for several changes ahead of time. Wash the cabbage leaves, allow to dry, and place in a zip-lock bag until needed. There are several recommended methods of preparation to choose from:

  • They can be applied as is, using one or more, as necessary to cover the breast.
  • The leaves can be crumpled in your hand to crush the veins prior to use
  • Leaves can be softened briefly in hot water to make them more pliable, and then chilled
  • Veins of the cabbage can be scored with a knife before application
  • Warmed, rather than chilled cabbage leaves offer better relief for some mothers

I hope by sharing this information and the references listed below, you will feel better equipped to further discuss this issue with the Head Nurse and Lactation Consultant working at your hospital. Best wishes!


  • Cool Cabbage Compresses, Rosier W, Breastfeeding Review, 1988
  • Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, Lawrence, 1994
  • Do Cabbage Leaves Prevent Breast Engorgement? A Randomized, Controlled Study, Nikodem VC, Birth, 1993
  • A Comparison of Chilled Cabbage Leaves and Chilled Gelpacks in Reducing Breast Engorgement, Roberts KL, Journal of Human Lactation, 1995
  • A Comparison of Chilled and Room Temperature Cabbage Leaves in Treating Breast Engorgement, Roberts KL, Journal of Human Lactation, 1995
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