Somatic Sexologist and Sex & Intimacy Coach Alice Child explains the many benefits of breast massage, how to do it, and why it's a great way of connecting to your body.
Our breasts go through a lot in one lifetime.
Flattened into sports bras, pleasured in the bedroom, sexualised or commented on by total strangers, stabbed by underwire, and used to nourish the next generation. They honestly deserve a medal for all the different things we put them through.
Chest massage is an incredible way to give your breasts (and yourself) some much-needed TLC. Plus, it comes with incredible physical, mental and sexual health benefits.
What's the deal with breast massage?
Breast or chest massage is any form of intentional self-touch to your chest and breasts. This can take the form of kneading, rubbing, holding, or stroking — whatever feels good for you. It often involves some form of rhythmic motion on your breast tissue and/or deeper chest muscles.
This not only feels amazing, but can have many physical health benefits, including pain relief, lymphatic drainage, and improved blood circulation. If you do it for long enough (15-20 minutes), it also releases a bunch of hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, which can make you feel relaxed, connected and calm.
If you are breastfeeding, it has additional benefits such as regulating milk supply, unblocking milk ducts, and helping relieve painful engorgement.
There are many different ways of giving yourself a breast massage, and the approach and technique varies depending on what you are hoping to achieve and what your body needs. For example, simply holding the weight of your breasts gently in your hands and breathing deeply can be an extremely relaxing and soothing form of self-care.
Although regular breast massage has numerous physical health benefits, I like to remind people that our breasts and nipples are also erogenous zones.
This means they have a huge number of nerve endings, and they play a really important role in building pleasure and arousal in the body. As a result, self-administered breast massage is an amazing opportunity to give your breasts (and yourself) some much-needed moments of self-pleasure.
What are the benefits of chest or breast massage (even if you're not breastfeeding?)
There are many positives to breast massage and a few of these include:
Body awareness and ownership
Breasts (especially larger breasts) are still hyper-sexualised in the media today. As a result, most women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention or commentary from others on their own bodies. We grow up feeling that our breasts are too small, too large, too saggy, too wrinkly, too unsymmetrical, too sexual, or not sexual enough!
For some, this feeling goes one step further and they might experience body dysmorphia when it comes to their breasts. Body dysmorphia is a mental illness that involves constant worry over perceived imperfections in one’s appearance and often includes repetitive behaviours that are formed in response to these concerns .
When our breasts aren't being sexualised, they are often medicalised. We use terms such as 'checking ourselves regularly' for lumps and signs of breast cancer. While this is an incredibly important daily practice, it is not surprising that we have a complicated relationship when it comes to our breasts and chests.
We might also lose connection to our breasts when we become mothers. Overnight, breasts go from 'sexual objects' to 'functional objects', used to nourish and feed the next generation.
While this is a beautiful experience for many mums, it is not without its challenges. Other people often have opinions on where, how and how long you 'should' breastfeed. And the needs of your new baby can overwhelm your own needs.
Chest or breast massage is a great way to reconnect with this part of our body, without any agenda. Whether you are breastfeeding or not, you can use it as a chance to listen to your body, reconnect, and give whatever touch or sensation your body is craving.
In a self-given therapeutic breast massage, your breasts don't have to be sexual, medical, or serve any purpose at all. Simply listen to them. This can be a very powerful tool for body confidence and ownership.
Pleasure and self-care
Mindful self-touch or self-breast massage can feel amazing — and not just because we are relieving sore muscles. Stimulating the tissue and glands in the chest promotes the secretion of hormones oxytocin and prolactin from the pituitary gland.
These hormones have the capacity to produce feelings of relaxation, calm and connection for people in general (not just lactating mothers). Try to set aside the time when possible as it's been found that it takes around 15-20 minutes of stimulation and massage for these benefits to be felt around the body.
The breasts are also erogenous zones, meaning that they have huge potential to build pleasure within the body. 'Pleasure' feels different for everybody, but breast massage can leave you feeling many things, including relaxed, calm, grounded, present, sleepy, aroused, energised, refreshed, and excited.
Many of us have a complicated relationship when it comes to self-pleasure. We might believe it is shameful, dirty, or self-indulgent. As a result, we might not prioritise acts of self-pleasure.
But, as a Sex and Intimacy Coach, I like to remind people that pleasure is good for us! In fact, it has been shown that experiencing and prioritising pleasure has incremental mental and physical health benefits.
As such, try and give yourself as much pleasure as possible during your breast massage. Think about exactly the type of touch you are craving, not just what you think you 'should' do. Touch yourself mindfully, gently, and with the same love, care and attention you would want a lover to touch you.
Consider what would make it feel even better for you? For example, grab your favourite essential or massage oil, light some candles, and turn breast self-massage into a beautiful moment of self-care.
Knowledge of body and breast cancer detection
The more we touch ourselves, the more we know ourselves! It is extremely important to know what 'normal' feels like within your own breast tissue so that if changes occur, you can seek out medical advice. This helps with early cancer detection.
If you regularly give yourself breast massages, you will be more likely to notice these changes. Breast self-exams are therefore an important part of detecting breast cancer.
Keep an eye out for new lumps in the breast or underarm, thickening or swelling in the breast, changes in the size or the shape of your breast, or ongoing breast pain. Remember, all of these symptoms can occur with other conditions that are not related to breast cancer. If you're worried, speak to your doctor.
Lymphatic drainage and blood flow
Breast massage can also help achieve better blood circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Lymphatic drainage is particularly important for people who wear bras or have had breast surgery. Living a relatively sedentary lifestyle, with breast tissue bound in tight bindings like bras, does not allow for proper drainage of the lymph nodes around the chest.
The lymphatic system is a network of tubes throughout the body. It drains fluid (called lymph) and empties it along with any unwanted toxins back into the bloodstream via the lymph nodes. It's essentially your body's drainage system.
Breast tissue extends into the area under your armpits, which is filled with lymph nodes. By stimulating these nodes with pulsating massage, you are mimicking the natural pumping action of the system and encouraging the toxins that might have built up to exit.
If you are curious to try it, put your hand in your armpit and with gentle pressure push inward and upward, feeling for tenderness. Go deep into the armpit, 'pump' upward and release. Do this 10-20 times, then swap to the other breast. This is what is called manual lymphatic drainage, and it feels very different to other breast massages.
Breast massage has been proven to have specific benefits for lactating parents, breastfeeding mothers and pregnant people. Whether you are planning on breastfeeding or not, breast massage can help with some universal concerns. This includes:
- Less breast pain and engorgement
- Helping over or undersupply of breast milk
- Helping release blocked milk ducts
- Aiding the let-down reflex (the hormonal reaction that causes milk to flow)
How to perform a breast massage
Here are my top tips for giving yourself an incredible chest or breast massage, regardless of life stage.
Set aside the time
It takes around 15-20 minutes of stimulation and massage for the benefits to be felt around the body, such as the release of those great hormones. You have to give yourself (and your body!) time to enjoy.
Set your scene
Think about what would make this experience even more pleasurable for you. Take off restrictive clothing, light some candles, put on some calming music, and sit or lie down somewhere comfortable and sensual.
Simply start with a moment of mindfulness, focusing on your breath. Bring your hands to your chest and feel your chest expanding and falling. What do you notice as you deepen your breath? What touch does your body crave?
Try adding warm massage oil or your favourite body moisturiser to your breast massage to enhance the sensations. If you don't have any, coconut oil, almond oil or even olive oil are good alternatives.
Go slowly, gently and with love
Start by gently cupping your breasts in each hand. Hold their weight. If it feels good for you, add a gentle circular motion with both hands, one on each breast. Go slowly and be curious about what new sensations would feel good. Touch yourself with the same presence and attention you'd want a lover to touch you.
Try new things
Stay curious and keep incorporating new types of touch. You could try:
- Slow, light, circular strokes with one finger, moving slowly inwards towards the nipple
- Wide sweeping strokes across the entire breast with all four fingers and the palm of your hand
- Cupping and massaging one breast at a time with both hands, and then swapping over
- Deeper kneading on your pectoral muscles with your fingertips or knuckles
- Moving outward to your wider chest area, including up to your collarbone, under your armpits, across your ribcage, and down beneath your breasts
- Pulsing pumping motion under your armpits to help assist with lymphatic drainage
- The gentle exploration of your nipples, such as gentle circles. If you're breastfeeding, adding some nipple balm could feel very nourishing.
End with a few moments of stillness
End your massage with your hands back on your chest, noticing your breath. Integrate what you've just experienced, and thank yourself for the moment of self-pleasure and care.
Why is breast massage recommended when breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can be an incredibly beautiful bonding experience for new mums, but it is not without its challenges. Breast and nipple pain, social stigma, too much or too little milk supply, blocked milk ducts, difficulty latching on, milk leaking through clothing — it's an emotional and time-consuming process, and it's totally normal to find it tough.
Breast massage not only reduces some of these challenges (such as regulating milk supply, reducing breast pain and engorgement, and helping unblock milk ducts), but it also creates a moment of much-needed self-care in your daily routine.
How to perform a breast massage while breastfeeding
When you're lactating, there’s no one-technique to do breast massage, so feel free to experiment and find what works for your body. It can be done before, during or after feeding your baby, so you can decide what works best for you and your routine.
If in doubt, always stroke inwards towards the nipple, using firm but comfortable pressure. This helps to improve milk flow. Try to keep consistent movement and compression, but experiment to see what feels best for you. Remember, it shouldn’t feel painful.
You might want to try using a lactation massager, which is a squishy ball designed for massaging breast tissue.
When massaging at the same time as feeding, just be careful not to disturb your baby’s attachment. Using an index finger, use gentle pressure and stroke inwards towards the nipple.
Adding oil and a nipple balm to the massage not only feels amazing but can also help with nipple chafing and reduce the appearance of stretch marks if that's something you are worried about.
How often and for how long should you massage your breasts?
Try to set aside at least 15-20 minutes for your breast massage, so that you are able to feel the full benefits. But remember, even 5 minutes of mindful self-touch and massage is better than nothing!
There's also no set rule for how often you should do this. If you're new to breast and chest massage, set an intention of trying to do it one to two times each week for a month, and see what benefits you notice over time. If you're breastfeeding, you might benefit from daily practice.
Stay up to date with Alice Child at The Vulva Dialogues.
Photo credit: Getty Images