Spa day—for your breasts! Why not? Breast massage can work wonders for the breastfeeding and breast pumping mother—easing discomfort, reducing engorgement, releasing plugged ducts, and improving milk flow. At the same time, breast massage can make direct breastfeeding more comfortable and more rewarding for the baby. It’s a win/win.
All right, you got us. It isn’t a one-off like the words spa day may have implied. You will want to make breast massage part of your breastfeeding routine, especially in those early days when your body is working hard to get milk production in sync with your baby’s needs - those early days when mom is most susceptible to engorgement. In case you don’t know, engorgement is when normal milk fullness goes unrelieved and leads to painful inflammation and edema of the breast. Untreated, it can worsen. Mom must relieve those overly full breasts, either by breastfeeding or by expressing.
But when engorgement itself is blocking milk release, that’s when breast massage can help.
There are many ways to do it right, so don’t get too hung up on the technique in the beginning. Start with clean, warm hands. Rub a dab of olive oil or lanolin between your palms to heat your hands up and help them glide over your breasts. Lean back, or even lie down on your back if you are treating engorgement, that way you are elevating your breasts to allow for drainage (just like you would elevate a swollen ankle). Focus on one breast at a time. Using your hands, lift your whole breast up and down, move it back and forth to the left and right, and then move the whole breast in slow, gentle circles first in one direction, then the other.
Then, with one hand supporting your breast, use the other hand to massage and knead the breast gently, moving around the outer perimeter of the breast and mindful that breast tissue can extend well back from the breast into the under-arm area.
Massage in concentric circles, moving closer to the nipple. Use your fingertips to tap on the breast and the backs of your fingers and knuckles to (gently!) work any firm areas.
Massage helps the mother get to know her body and lets her create a mindful space for breastfeeding or pumping. It also just feels good and it gets the milk moving. Massage wakes the breasts up and gets them ready for what comes next.
What comes next is up to the mom, will it be direct breastfeeding or will it be expressing milk to feed the baby later? If it is direct breastfeeding—you’re good to go! Go ahead and get that baby latched. (Still too full from engorgement? Try Reverse Pressure Softening for a minute or two first, that should do the trick!)
If you are planning to pump—we highly recommend you continue your massage with a few minutes of hand expression (or more!) first. Why?
Moms who use hand expression as part of their pumping routine/technique get more milk.
Pumps are a wonderful tool and we are grateful for them, but they work through vacuum pressure only—when a baby breastfeeds they use vacuum pressure as well, but they also use their tongue and jaw action to press milk from the breasts. You can use your fingertips to press milk from the breasts.
After massaging for a few minutes, your breasts are primed to respond to hand expression. Give it a go! For more information and tips on how to hand express, check out this great video or if you’d like to read up on it, check out this article.
Cheers to you on your breastfeeding journey!