In the early days of breastfeeding, I personally had found it very useful to do some breast massage just before and after nursing my baby, and sometimes even in between nursing sessions, to help encourage let-down reflex (the releasing of milk from the milk reservoirs through the milk ducts to the nipple area) and a faster milk flow, as well as for emptying the breast and nipping blocked ducts in their infancy. Indeed, I learnt from my lactation consultant later that mothers-to-be can start to do some breast massage in the final weeks before delivery to prepare our breasts for the rigour of breastfeeding.
Attaining a faster let-down and milk flow is beneficial in terms of satisfying a screaming, hungry newborn who simply cannot wait to be nursed and does not know what patience is. This is especially so in the first few days after birth when the milk supply has not fully come in, when the newborn can get frustrated with having to suckle hard and long before they can get the milk and possibly end up refusing to suckle, particularly if the confused new mother resorts to introducing bottle-feeding where the milk flow via the teat is always faster and easier to elicit than the breast.
On the other hand, a slow milk flow can also cause newborns to get drowsy and fall asleep easily at the breast, even before the breast is emptied, only to wake up moments later screaming and kicking because they are still hungry. This scenario repeated over time leads many new mothers to the wrong conclusion that they do not have enough milk, when actually the problem lies with the milkflow and not milk supply.
How then does one massage the breast? There are two well-established methods to help prepare and stimulate the breast.
1) Marmet Massage
Support the breast with one hand cupping the underside of the breast. With the other hand, gently massage the breast tissue with circular motions around the areola (the bigger, dark-coloured ‘circle’ around the nipple), without rubbing the skin. Do this for a few minutes. Then repeat for the other breast.
2) Plata Rueda Massage Cup the top and bottom of the breast with one hand each, lying the hands flat on the breast. Gently massage the breast with horizontal to-and-fro motions without moving the skin. Do this for a minute or two. Then position both hands on the sides of the breast, and massage the breast with vertical up-and-down motions for another minute or two. Repeat for the other breast.
To encourage let-down reflex, gently stroke the breast tissue from the chest wall to the front of the breast close to the nipple and the edge of the areola.
After nursing your baby, you can try to further massage your breast for a few minutes each side and perform hand or manual expression or pumping to help to empty your breasts. This is useful in signaling to your body to produce more milk to meet demand.
Be gentle during your massage. Breast massage may cause some discomfort due to underlying problems like engorgement or blocked ducts, but they should not be cause additional, unbearable pain. Finally, remember to wash your hands before massaging your breasts!