Using cabbage to make weaning less painful

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By: Alex BrownCC BY 2.0

First, let me say this: I love breastfeeding. The low times (eating every hour in the beginning, nibbling with tiny little teeth in the middle, then all-out biting with big teeth towards the end) are barely memorable when compared to the high times (Jasper playing with my hair while he nurses and falling asleep with his hand inside my mouth, to name a few).

Now, let me say this: weaning has been a team operation for Jasper and I. Granted, it’s one that we haven’t always both played at the same time. Since I have had weddings to shoot, the original game plan was to wean to formula at six months. Jazz completely balked at the attempts I made to switch to bottles, so we kept nursing. Six months later, I tried weaning again, but then Jasper got Roseola and a big (for him) fever, so I let him nurse as much as he wanted. Now, at fourteen months and all of the sudden, Jasper has decided breastfeeding is for babies and he’s done.

That’s great and all, but can I get an OUCH?!

I have been researching weaning a lot, because I wanted to be prepared for what I anticipated would be painful, mournful, and strange. Instead, other than the outrageous and totally unexpected pain (I cut down feedings gradually), weaning has been THE BOMB. I’m not naysaying breastfeeding, because I am a champion of it, but I never anticipated I’d be quite as pumped about the end of this bonding time with our son. I’m also not saying that something’s wrong with you if you don’t think weaning is great, because I really thought I was going to be one sad mama post-nursing.

Regardless, I was not at ALL prepared for the pain of engorged breasts. YIKES.

While researching, I kept reading over and over again that cabbage can help you wean, but didn’t take it entirely seriously. However, at time of writing it’s been sixteen hours since Jasper last nursed, and the pain drove me from our friend’s house to my local grocery store to pick up a head of GREEN cabbage. Interested? Here’s the breakdown:

By: Janna WagesCC BY 2.0

What you need

  • One to three heads of GREEN cabbage (I used two. When my husband said something about me wasting cabbage, I reminded him that he was not the one with a GARDEN in his bra because of swollen breasts, so I could determine how much cabbage I did and did not use.)
  • a bra that fits well enough to hold the cabbage, but isn’t tight
  • a significant other/friend to take photos of the process, or at least of you with leaves of cabbage down your bra

What you do

  • Wash cabbage VERY well (it gets itchy if it’s not cleaned all the way!)
  • Take out two leaves and store the rest in the fridge/freezer
  • Put the leaves inside your bra with the spine facing out. You want the thickest part of the spine to be at the top so it’s not digging into your breasts
  • Change out the leaves every two to three hours, or when the cabbage becomes warm and wilted

The do-nots

  • Do NOT use cabbage leaves if you are allergic to cabbage or sulfa.
  • Do NOT do this 24 hours a day–you’ll have some itchy breasts!
  • Do NOT restrict your water intake–this WILL NOT help engorgement, but can lead to dehydration.
  • Do NOT think you can’t pump–just don’t pump a lot. I pumped each side for 30 seconds 2-3 times a day for two days to help.
  • Do NOT bind your breasts–this can lead to mastitis. Seriously. I was wearing tight fitting bras the first two or three days 24/7 (unless in the shower) because that’s what the Internet told me to do. I also noticed I had clogged ducts on the sides of my breasts where the bra dug in–once I stopped wearing one (I opted for somewhat supportive dresses and nightgowns), they went away.
  • Do NOT stimulate your nipples.
  • Do NOT use heat on swollen or engorged breasts.

Ta-da! I used cabbage off and on for four days. It didn’t dry up my supply like I imagined, but it definitely relieved the swelling. It’s not a complete miracle, because I still experienced plenty of discomfort, but it definitely helps. All in all, it took about five days before I was comfortable enough to not pump, and by day six I was completely chilling.

Alternatives

Allergic to cabbage? Kind of icked out by the idea of shoving two leaves down your bra every few hours? Here are some other helpful ways to make weaning easier:

  • Use ice packs or frozen veggies. If using packs, use them for 20 minutes a 3-4 times a day. If using veggies, do not put them directly on your skin–use a towel underneath the bag! I found peas are the best, because they move around into the spots that you need.
  • Drink up to two cups of sage tea each day–sage helps dry up supply, but can cause seizures if you drink too much of it.
  • If you’re not against medicine, you can take ibuprofen as needed to help with any inflammation

If you’re working outside of the home for several hours on end, I can see how you might prefer to avoid the cabbage route–it’s smelly, for one. Mamas who work outside the home–what suggestions do you have?

Comments on Using cabbage to make weaning less painful

  1. I’ve heard a lot about cabbage and it’s one of those ideas that’s just so crazy it works.

    I’m not allergic to cabbage, but I am allergic to sulfa. Does cabbage have sulfa in it (I really don’t eat a lot of cabbage so maybe I am allergic to it)? What’s the connection between the two?

  2. Two things:

    One, cabbage is also helpful is you struggle with plugged ducts, especially on a recurrent basis. It’s a pain to wear for a few days at a time, but totally helps.

    Two, I have fairly severe sulfa allergies and have used cabbage without any problems. I read online that there isn’t a connection between the two. Don’t take my word as I’m not a medical professional, but that’s what’s worked for me.

  3. While I have no personal experience with breast feeding… Except when I was on the recieving end many years ago… Since I have yet to have my own baby. Currently I am a co-mother (Aka step mother of two) and I am also an acupuncture student and supposedly sprouted wheat can also help stop lactation. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any personal experience in that regard. Cabbage in the bra sounds fun too though.

  4. I was all about the cabbage when my milk first came in and my boob killed so I am glad to hear that it can help with weaning. I do work outside the home so I might be able to drop a pumping session/breast feeding session and at least limit my cabbage use to at home.
    Using vacation days to wean would make me sad.

  5. I am currently working on weaning my 15 month old son and he is down to once a day. When he isn’t nursing at all I am definitely going to try this.

  6. I’m rocking cabbage in my bra today. I’m thrilled to know I’m not the first. I love your photo. Hilarious! I feel ya on it… 🙂

  7. And if you are unlucky enough to suffer from a yeast infection, you can have a matching cabbage panty and bra set!

    Seriously — the same anti-inflammatory properties in cabbage that help soothe mastitis and weaning breasts also helps with the itching and irritation of yeast infections.

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