What is Breast Massage and Why it it Important?

Breasts receive little therapeutic attention until there is a problem. Breast massage, like massage anywhere else on the body, can improve circulation and drainage of blood and lymph, reduce pain or discomfort, and reduce swelling. It aids in enhancing respiration, allowing deeper, fuller and more satisfying breaths of air. Of particular importance to the perinatal cycle, it has also been shown to improve and support lactation as well as reduce the chances of clogged ducts or mastitis. Specifically, it can be used to enhance lactation by reducing the time needed for pumping or feeding. It can be used as a complementary treatment to clear clogged ducts or mastitis, if they do occur.

In addition to the physical benefits, there are many emotional benefits to breast massage. Many people attach negative emotions to their breasts or chest area such as guilt, shame, and anger. This could be due to lactation issues, body image, pain, cancer, sex, sexual assault, or gender identification. Intentional and safe therapeutic touch on breast tissue can help reintegrate and connect the physical form with the emotional one in a positive way.

Having breasts and the full chest included in a massage session can be extremely empowering. Regular breast massage has the added benefit of increasing overall breast health awareness.

Massage to this area uses a variety of techniques and strokes to achieve the desired results. Some techniques use oil or lotion and others do not. Although easiest when performed directly on the client’s skin, massage can also be performed through a sheet or clothing other than a padded bra. I work with my client’s level of comfort and modesty to create a safe space for them to receive care.

Besides perinatal massage therapists, who else is currently practicing breast massage? Examples include lymphatic drainage therapists, pre- and post-surgical therapists for breast removal, lumpectomy, or reconstruction, oncology massage therapists, and lomi-lomi therapists, to name a few.

How do we define breast tissue for breast massage? The anatomical borders of breast tissue are the clavicle, latissimus dorsi muscle in the axilla, the sternum, and ribs 6-7. According to the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, breast massage is defined as the “manipulation of the non-muscular soft tissue structure of the breast up to and including the areola and nipple.”

Massage to breast tissue is different than traditional deep-tissue techniques. When manipulating this glandular tissue, we are not trying to create change in a “tight” muscle or other rigid structures. Our intention is to unwind restrictions to create better flow. We will cover some specific techniques in a future blog post.

If our lactating client is partnered, breast massage can be used as one way to increase physical intimacy in the postpartum period, if the partners agree and consent. Touch has been shown to increase overall feelings of well-being, decrease stress hormones, and release oxytocin. All of which aid in emotional connection in intimate relationships. With direction, the non-lactating partner can have an active supporting role in lactation by providing gentle breast massage.

While breast massage is greatly beneficial when able to be used, What are contraindications to consider?

  • We would avoid deep work with clients at risk for lymphedema. If lymph nodes have been removed or radiated in the axilla, permanent swelling could occur if fluid is moved into this area. Avoid deep tissue work in the arm or shoulder of the affected side. Gentle/ light touch is generally safe.

  • Specific work on an undiagnosed lump – work surrounding structures. Have the client get the lump checked out as appropriate.

  • Undiagnosed distortion of the breast or nipple – anything that is new to the client

  • In the case of mastitis we would avoid deeper techniques to the affected breast until infection is cleared or antibiotics have been started.

  • Active breast cancer, unless oncology massage training

Chelsey Swan