Rachel Riley using cabbage leaves to relieve breastfeeding pain: Does the age-old mastitis cure work?

Rachel Riley reveals Colin Murray gave her the nickname 'cabbage boobs' as she discusses condition

Rachel Riley has very publicly discussed that she's using cabbage to help with breastfeeding pain.

The Countdown presenter, 36, shared a picture of herself on set, holding the leafy green up to her breast.

"The TV husband is back and covid-free! Tune in every day 2.10pm Channel 4 for the foreseeable to see the wonderful @mrcolinmurray hosting Countdown and to see why this cabbage is my new best friend. I bet the mums can guess already…" she shared on Instagram.

Read more: What is the painful breastfeeding condition mastitis? From symptoms to treatments

As predicted, many fans filled the comments, guessing what the use of the cabbage might be for, with Riley mum to Maven, two, and baby Noa, who she shares with her husband, ex-Strictly Come Dancing professional, Pasha Kovalev.

"Mastitis? Hope it doesn’t last too long!," wrote one, while another said, "Mastitis ouch", with many wishing her well soon.

Mastitis is when your breast becomes swollen, hot and painful. It is most common in women who are breastfeeding, though those who aren't, and men, can also get it.

Read more: Celebrities breastfeeding: From nursing twins to public feeding, mums busting taboos

Rachel Riley is seen at Scala Radio, Bauer Media on July 12, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Nicky J Sims/Getty Images for Bauer Media)
Rachel Riley swears by cabbage leaves to help with breastfeeding, pictured here at Scala Radio, Bauer Media in London, July 2022. (Getty Images)

Some seemed positive about the cabbage solution, commenting, "Yep, it'll work", while others weren't so sure. "Oh dear, wish I had words of wisdom to help. But nothing helped mine," said another.

Shortly after her post, Riley confirmed on Monday's episode of Countdown that she does in fact have the common breastfeeding complication.

Co-host Colin Murray, who has returned to the show after having COVID-19, addressed Riley with, "You are working through the pain today, you’re not too well yourself."

The maths whizz responded, smiling, "I am, and you just seem absolutely fascinated by this because I’ve got...well, do you want to tell everyone? Because you’re the one that’s so excited."

"When I was a young lad we didn't talk about...and I'd never heard of the thing that you have today," he chimed in. "That's why I'm excited."

Riley then revealed, affectionately, "Yeah, you shouted across the studio that my nickname is now cabbage boobs."

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MAY 19: Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev attend the Tusk Ball 2022 at the Natural History Museum in honour of African conservation on May 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Antony Jones/Getty Images For Tusk)
Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev tied the knot in June 2019, pictured here at the Tusk Ball 2022 at the Natural History Museum in London, May 2022. (Getty Images)

Riley said that after breastfeeding for two and a half years, she currently has mastitis.

"Cabbage leaves are one of the old remedies that actually does something," she explained, adding that she is "soldiering on".

Riley has since received praise for talking about the condition on national television. "It's great this is being spoken about. I had it many times breastfeeding my kids, it's really not nice – so painful. I hope Rachel recovers from it soon," one social media user Tweeted.

Meanwhile, others were familiar with the nickname in their own families. "Haha, that’s what I called my OH [other half] when we had our first child, she really suffered breast feeding and chilled cabbage leaves applied to the boobs helped relieve the swelling! Welcome to Team Cabbage Boobs," another posted on the platform.

But is the age-old cure actually recommended? The NHS does in fact recommend using cabbages for breastfeeding pain caused by a similar condition known as engorgement, which is when your breasts become overly full.

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Mastits. (Getty Images)
Mastitis happens when a blocked milk duct is not relieved, causing hot, painful and swollen symptoms. (Getty Images)

Other than feeding your baby, the health service suggests easing the discomfort by expressing a little breast milk by hand (ask a professional how).

Other general recommendations for engorgement include wearing a well-fitting breastfeeding bra that doesn't restrict your breasts, placing warm flannels on your breasts before expressing if they're leaking, and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen at the recommended dose to ease the pain.

But, most unexpectedly, the website states, "apply chilled cabbage leaves to your breasts after feeding or expressing to reduce the pain and swelling".

However, it also adds, "the evidence on the benefits of this method is weak, but it may work for some women".

It seems it's completely down to the individual, as demonstrated by those sharing their experiences on social media, but could be worth a try...

Consult a GP if you experience any type of breastfeeding pain, and seek professional advice before you try any at-home remedies.

For more information, see the NHS' website pages on mastitis and on breast pain and breastfeeding.