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  • Nicole JeanBaptiste

How Cabbage Saved My Trip to Cuba Sans Nursling


Soooooo...once upon a postpartum time, I had this radical idea to go on a vacation. Alone. Just me. No children.

An invitation to Cuba's Jazz Fest and an incredibly reasonably priced flight and AirBnB later I found myself in Havana! Solo. Actually, it was more like a girls' trip because my sister ended up joining me. The point is that this was my first extended period of time away from Zuva since she was born almost 2 years ago. I have obviously attended births since having her, but I've never been away for more than two days.

There was one caveat to to this solo mama trip that I did not thoroughly consider-- the young princess is still breastfeeding! [Insert forehead slap.] She is of course eating solid foods also, but we're definitely doing 1-2 feedings of breastmilk daily and one of these feedings is often a bedtime aid.

Fast forward to day 2.5 away from the young nursling. The pain in my breasts caused by not releasing my milk began to hit. Unfortunately, I forgot my handheld manual breast pump at home. My other two options were to 1. hand express this milk (something I've always struggled with) and 2. use cabbage leaves. Yes, cabbage leaves. This is one of those remedies that I recommend to clients because I've read that it offers relief to moms with engorged breasts and it comes up in doula trainings. Just recently, I recommended this remedy to a client fully disclosing that I had never actually tried this method nor could I provide her with an explanation of how and why this actually works. That was about to change forever.

By the time I decided that I needed a cabbage all of the nearby markets in Havana had closed for the day, unfortunately. Bright and early the following morning, Sis and I hit the streets in search of la col. Someone from the Old Havana neighborhood where we were staying was kind enough to show us where we could get the soothing veggie.

At last, cabbage!

Following this early morning market run I promptly returned to our place where I washed two cabbage leaves in cold water and placed one on each breast.

And, they worked! The relief was almost instant.

So how and why are cabbage leaves when applied to engorged, painful breasts as cold compresses so effective? Botanist, Richard Eden, offers the following explanation.

Cabbages are members of the Brassicaceae, a large and diverse plant family. Among many other chemicals, brassicas produce glucosinolate compounds, one of which, sinigrin (potassium myronate), gives rise to the pungent smell associated with cooking cabbage.

In the presence of water and the brassica enzyme myrosinase, sinigrin forms “mustard oils”, which are noted throughout history for their healing properties when applied as a poultice. Crushed or chopped leaves are applied externally as a counter-irritant to ease swellings and painful joints and to cleanse infections, and a warming sensation can be experienced in the skin. Mustard oils can lead to blistering, however, so must be used with caution.

Needless to say, I will continue to offer cold cabbage leaves as a remedy to folks with engorged breasts as a result of breastfeeding.


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