Paloma Faith has kept a very open and honest pregnancy diary since announcing she was expecting her second child.
The singer, who gave birth to her youngest daughter on 20 February, took to Instagram to reveal she has been diagnosed with acute engorgement - which means her breasts are sore and hard.
Faith accompanied a photo of her bra stuffed with cabbage leaves with the comment: “It’s painful. The boobs are rock hard. I’m trying massage while feeding, it hurts so much like a deep tissue massage and not much is helping.
“Hot showers/massage/hand expressing and poor baby is really over it with the exhausting hard work she needs to do to get the milk out of all those swollen blocked ducts. I’ve been told it should settle. Let’s hope I don’t end up in A&E with it before that! This is some next level pain! Mum life is REALLLLLLL.”
One user in the comments asked: “Serious question as a male who knows nothing about this. What do the cabbage leaves do?”
Faith replied: “I have no idea but everyone tells you to put them in your bra.”
Can cabbage leaves help relieve engorged breasts?
Emma Pickett, breastfeeding counsellor and author of The Breast Book, says cabbage leaves have long been used to soothe engorgement.
“Cabbage leaves are a natural shape to fit around a breast so it’s not hard to imagine why they were chosen by our ancestors. Lymph fluid in the breast is moved with cool compresses of any kind. You are reducing swelling like you do in any other part of your body,” Pickett explains.
“There is some concern among lactation consultants that cabbage can be connected with supply reduction so it’s normally suggested to use them for around 20-30 minutes perhaps three times a day. Once they start to wilt, use fresh leaves. And green cabbage is normally used rather than red.”
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Dr Ellie Rayner, obstetrician, gynaecologist and founder of @thematernitycollective said there is “weak scientific evidence” behind the cabbage theory but studies have shown that it works for some women.
“Alternatively, you can try using a cold compress or frozen wet towel wrapped in a flannel or tea towel,” Rayner adds.
Why do engorged breasts occur after having a baby?
Rayner says engorgement occurs when your breasts are overly full with milk.
“This can happen for several reasons including when your milk first comes in during the first few days after birth or if your newborn isn’t feeding as much as they need to, or have done previously,” Rayner continues.
“The swelling is not just caused by increased qualities of milk, but also increased blood flow and extra lymph fluid in your breast tissue causing the breast to become hard, tight and painful.”
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When the placenta is removed after giving birth, a woman's body sees this as a signal that it’s time for the milk to come in.
“[The placenta being removed] sends signals to change our milk from colostrum (baby’s first milk we start making in pregnancy) to mature milk,” Pickett explains. “This brings extra fluids to our breast to help the milk-producing cells get into gear.
“The breast is full of lymph fluid and blood, not just milk. For most people, this can mean a couple of days of fullness and discomfort. It can make it harder for the baby to get a mouthful of breast too so it’s important to ask for help if you need it. It means our body is making the next stage of milk for our baby.”
What other techniques can help relieve engorged breasts?
Besides using cabbage, Pickett recommends other cool compresses such as gel packs or, in severe cases, you can wrap frozen peas in a tea towel and place this on your breasts for short periods too.
“It can help to soften the breasts slightly with massage and sometimes removing a little milk. It’s important not to break out the breast pump too enthusiastically as we ideally want your baby to send their own messages to the breasts by feeding effectively in the early days and not to overstimulate your supply,” Pickett adds.
If it’s safe for you to take Ibuprofen ordinarily, Pickett says this may also help reduce inflammation (which you can read more about here).
Rayner agrees that the best treatment is feeding your baby, but this can often be difficult as your baby may struggle to latch properly.
“If so, try and soften the breast beforehand by using a warm compress or flannel for a couple of minutes to help get your milk flowing. If this doesn’t work, try hand expressing or using a pump to let out a small amount of milk from both breasts first,” Rayner adds.
“Once you have relieved the initial engorgement, make sure to feed your baby frequently to prevent them becoming overfilled again.
Is there any way to prevent engorgement?
Pickett advises: “You can help prevent engorgement by feeding regularly in the first few days, waking very sleepy babies and getting support to make sure your baby is attached effectively.”
To find out more, visit nhs.uk/conditions/breast-pain