The following describes the use of some treatments for breastfeeding
mothers who are having various problems.
Cabbage leaves for engorgement
Severe engorgement about the third or fourth day after the baby
is born can usually be prevented by getting the baby latched on
well and drinking well from the very beginning. If you do become
engorged, please understand that engorgement diminishes within 1
or 2 days even without any treatment. Continue to breastfeed the
baby, making sure he gets on well and nurses well. However, if you
should get engorged to the point of severe discomfort, cabbage leaves
seem to help decrease the engorgement more rapidly than ice packs
or other treatments. If you are unable to get the baby latched on,
start cabbage leaves, start expressing your milk and give the expressed
milk to the baby by spoon, cup, finger feeding or eyedropper and
get help quickly.
- Use green cabbage.
- Crush the cabbage leaves with a rolling pin if the leaves do
not accommodate to the shape of your breast.
- Wrap the cabbage leaves around the breast and leave on for
about 20 minutes. Twice daily is enough. It is usual to use the
cabbage leaf treatment two or three times or less.
- Stop using as soon as engorgement is beginning to diminish
and you are becoming more comfortable.
- You can use acetaminophen (Tylenol™, others) with or without
codeine for pain relief. As with almost all medications, there
is no reason to stop breastfeeding when taking analgesics.
- Ice packs also can be helpful.
- If you are one of the women who gets a large lump in the armpit
about 3 or 4 days after the baby’s birth, you can use cabbage
leaves in that area as well.
Herbs for Increasing Milk Supply
It is quite possible that herbal remedies help increase milk supply.
There are several drugs which obviously do increase milk supply,
and of course it is reasonable to assume that some plants and herbs
might contain similar pharmacologic agents. Almost every culture
has some sort of herb or plant or potion to increase milk supply.
Some may work as placebos, which is fine, some may have an active
ingredient. Some will have active ingredients which will not increase
the milk supply but have other effects. Note that even herbs can
have side effects, even serious ones. Natural source drugs are still
drugs, and there is no such thing as a 100% safe drug. Luckily,
as with most drugs, the baby will get only a tiny percentage of
the mother’s dose. The baby is thus extremely unlikely to have any
side effects at all from the herbs. Two herbal treatments that seem
to increase the milk supply are fenugreek and blessed thistle, in
the following dosages:
fenugreek: 2 capsules 3 or 4 times a day
blessed thistle: 2 capsules 3 or 4 times a day, or 20
drops of the tincture 3 or 4 times a day
The tincture container states that blessed thistle should not
be taken by nursing mothers, presumably because of the tiny amount
of alcohol the mother would get. Don’t worry about this. Teas also
work, but to take enough to make a difference, you will be drinking
tea all day and night.
Other herbal treatments which have been used to increase milk
supply are: raspberry leaf, fennel, brewer’s yeast. The effectiveness
of none of these treatments has been proved.
All purpose nipple ointment
The best treatment of nipple soreness is prevention. The best
prevention is an early start to breastfeeding and a good latch.
More than minimal nipple pain in the first two or three days after
your baby’s birth is due to a poor latch, no matter who tells you
the latch is fine. Get help.
Sometimes nipple ointments such as Lansinoh™, Purlan™ and others
can be very useful for mild to moderate pain, but fixing the latch
is still the best treatment. Sometimes a "good-for-all-things-don’t-know-why-it-works"
nipple ointment can also be very useful.
You may be prescribed such an ointment (which works better than
a cream). It will contain:
- One or more antibiotics. Almost all cracks and erosions have
bacteria growing in the base. Whether they are actually causing
infection, or whether they merely delay healing is not known.
But it has been known for many years that antibiotic ointments
help some mothers’ nipple pain get better.
- An antifungal agent. Candida albicans can cause nipple soreness
and cracking. Sometimes it is not easy to tell what contribution
this fungus causes to breastfeeding mothers’ nipple soreness.
- An antiinflammatory agent. Often it is the inflammation associated
with infection or injury which causes the most pain. The antiinflammatory
agent (a steroid) decreases the inflammatory response.
In Canada, Kenacomb™ (more easily available) or Viaderm KC™ (less
expensive) ointments contain the above ingredients. Ointments can
also be made up from individual ingredients. In the USA, mixing
Mycolog™ ointment with 2% mupirocin ointment results in a similar
How to use? Apply the ointment sparingly each feeding. Do not wash
or wipe it off even if the baby goes back to the breast within minutes.
Most of the ingredients are not absorbed from the baby’s gut and
will do him no harm. Once you are feeling better (usually within
2-5 days), you can gradually decrease the use of the ointment until
you are not using it at all. For some conditions, the mother may
have to use the ointment daily or twice daily to keep pain free.
This is not a problem and you may continue the use of the ointment
for weeks or longer, if necessary.
Handout #24. Treatments for Problems. Revised
Treatments for Problems
Written by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
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