So you have recently created a tiny human. Go you!
As you're probably aware, breastfeeding can be one of the most beautiful parts of life with a new baby. It offers precious time to bond with your little one in those early months after pregnancy, as well as providing important nutrition as they grow and develop.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding is not always easy. Breastfeeding problems are normal, so you're not alone if you're finding it tough.
It can be time-consuming and even frustrating for many new mums, especially if your milk supply isn't keeping up with your little one's growing appetite (or you're suffering from the dreaded mastitis).
In fact, one US study found evidence that 12 per cent of early postpartum mothers experienced "disrupted lactation" resulting in early weaning. Luckily, evidence tells us that most mums can produce enough breastmilk with the appropriate support. And, breast massage can be a game-changer when it comes to improving milk supply.
If you're looking to add breast massage into your feeding routine, we've got you covered. Read on for all the information you need to be using lactation massage like a pro in no time.
Deep tissue massage while breastfeeding
Getting the hang of breastfeeding can be tricky enough, without the added stress when things don't exactly go to plan. Undersupply is one of the most common issues, but it doesn't have to be.
According to the Royal Women's Hospital, breast milk supply can usually be improved through breastfeeding more frequently, getting as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, switching breasts while feeding, making sure the baby is attaching properly, and, of course, breast massage.
So what actually is lactation massage? The concept is pretty simple and safe to try yourself at home, as long as you don't experience any increase in breast pain. There are many benefits of massage, from aiding the let-down reflex (the hormonal reaction that causes milk to flow) to offering treatment for breast pain after nursing.
It may take some time to find the type and intensity of massage that works for you, but sticking with it can make a huge difference to your breastfeeding journey.
As always, we recommend getting in touch with your healthcare provider with any concerns that arise during the breastfeeding or massage process. Most breastfeeding mums can resolve issues at home, but it's always a good idea to reach out for advice. After all, your breasts deserve the best!
Can breast massage increase milk supply?
In your early weeks together, you and bub will have likely settled into a pattern when it comes to the frequency and duration of nursing. However, sometimes it may seem like you aren't producing enough breast milk to keep up with his growing appetite. (You could also be producing too much milk, which can lead to other issues that we'll tackle later on.) This is where breast massage can help.
If you find yourself running out of milk before your little one is satisfied, the easiest solution may come as a surprise.
To increase milk supply, new mums should actually attempt to feed more often than usual. This will send signals to your body via your nerves and hormones to increase milk production and eventually create a new status quo of supply and demand. During the adjustment process, there is evidence that lactation massage can reduce pain and increase milk supply.
While we are all familiar with the benefits of massage for standard sore muscles after a particularly intense workout, breast massage involves specific techniques formulated to stimulate milk production and make both you and your baby more comfortable.
What are the benefits of breast massage?
Therapeutic breast massage is used in different forms all over the world, resulting in less pain, fewer blockages and higher milk production. The Oketani technique, for example, was developed in Japan and is a well-known treatment involving heat application and gentle massage.
A recent study suggested that lactation massage can reduce oversupply, relieving pain caused by breast engorgement, milk ducts and mastitis. Rather than making your body produce more or less milk, breast massage simply strengthens the natural feedback loop that regulates supply.
Plus, lactation massage is a low-risk process that can help you to connect with your body and your baby while nursing, resulting in a more enjoyable breastfeeding experience for you both.
That's what we call a win-win situation!
How to hand massage breast for lactation
There are lots of different ways to perform lactation massage for breastfeeding. The main aim is to stimulate the breast tissue, so you can experiment to find what works for you. A massage tool can help in many cases, providing consistent yet targeted pressure. Massage can help with both over-and under-production of breast milk, as it encourages your body to become more attuned with your baby's feeding routine.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends taking off your bra completely before you begin breastfeeding, whether you're planning to perform breast massage or not.
When you're relaxed, start to massage the breast towards the nipple on all sides as your baby feeds. Light strokes are the key here, making sure not to disturb your little one's attachment to the nipple.
Another lactation massage technique involves alternating a gentle circular motion, tapping with your fingertips and kneading with your fists all over the breast, areola and up towards the armpit. This can be performed while the baby is feeding or you can use hand expression during the process to stimulate more milk. Either way, you should notice more milk flowing as you massage.
If you are finding that you regularly experience dry skin around the nipple after breastfeeding, a little olive oil applied directly to the skin can help. Almond oil is another great option, as both are safe and effective for breastfeeding mothers.
The Journal of Human Lactation suggests performing this breast massage for 30 to 45 minutes on each breast, but even 10 minutes is better than nothing.
Breast massage can be performed using your hands or a massage tool. A breast massager can be used before, during or after breastfeeding and can help treat plugged ducts, low breastmilk supply and general swelling.
How to massage out lumps while breastfeeding
While massaging, you may come across a painful area in your breast. This is a common occurrence for breastfeeding mums and can cause an added level of discomfort. If you notice a sensitive lump in your breast, it could be a blocked milk duct. Breast massage can assist in breaking up these clogged ducts.
First, take a hot shower or use a heat pack on the affected area of your breast to increase the effectiveness of the massage as it helps stimulate milk production and unclog ducts. Then, start your baby off on the affected breast and gently massage the lump towards the nipple.
Afterwards, an ice pack can help with pain and any residual swelling around the nipples.
If the lump hangs around for longer than 24 hours or you start to feel sick, you should see a doctor as this may be a sign your plugged ducts have developed into mastitis. Even if you're worried about mastitis, it is still safe and even recommended to keep nursing to help your breasts heal.
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