Breastfeeding Basics

By Elaine Stillerman, LMT
May 29, 2009

Breastfeeding Basics

By Elaine Stillerman, LMT
May 29, 2009

I was sitting at the airport waiting for a connecting flight when I noticed a young mother wearily pushing a baby carriage. She found a seat facing me and sat down with a sigh. She glanced over at her sleeping newborn, adjusted the baby's blanket and closed her eyes for a much-needed nap. About 10 minutes passed and the mother's head dropped forward as she fell into a deep sleep. Suddenly, the baby began to fuss and mom woke with a start. As her baby's cries got louder, two large stains appeared on the front of her blouse.

Touching, hearing, seeing, smelling or even thinking about your baby can stimulate milk let-down. Breast milk is absolutely perfect for babies and its benefits are well-documented. Breast milk provides numerous advantages to the infant's general health, growth and development and, at the same time, significantly reduces the risk for numerous acute and chronic diseases.1 Research in the U.S., Canada, Europe and other developed nations cite a decrease in the incidence and severity of diarrhea,2-4 lower respiratory infections,5-6 ear infections,7-9 urinary tract infections,10 allergic diseases,11 possible sudden infant death12 and many other physical benefits among breastfed babies. Other studies suggest breastfeeding might help boost IQs and cognitive development.13-15

Nursing mothers also reap numerous benefits to their recovering bodies and emotional health.16 To begin with, breastfeeding increases the levels of oxytocin (the maternal hormone or the hormone of motherly love), resulting in less postpartum bleeding and faster uterine involution or healing.17 There also is evidence that nursing helps new mothers lose their pregnancy weight faster.18 There is improved re-mineralization during postpartum for those women who nurse19 and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer20 and premenopausal breast cancer.21 Breastfeeding seems to really make a difference with regards to breast cancer risks. Data on 150,000 women from 30 countries established that each year of breastfeeding reduced a woman's lifetime breast cancer risk by 4.3 percent.22 In the U.S., this could mean reducing the number of women with breast cancer by 7,500 annually.23 Other studies showed that nursing mothers are a third less likely to be depressed.24

Equally important is the emotional bond between mother and child that nursing fosters. Breastfeeding provides a unique intimacy between a mother and her child, offers comfort to a fussy baby and is an incomparable method of communication. There are some practical advantages, too: Breastfeeding doesn't cost anything, the milk is available at all times, provides the appropriate nutrition and always is the perfect temperature.

Massage for Healthy Breasts

A gentle massage will help keep the breasts healthy, reduce or treat engorgement, keep the milk ducts unblocked and the milk flowing. A professional massage practitioner might offer this care or teach the new mother how to do it for herself. The following steps will guide you in giving breast massage:

  • Using a little bit of lubrication on the fingertips, lightly stroke (effleurage) all around the base of the breast several times. The pressure should be very light (this is a lymphatic drainage technique).
  • Continuing with the same light touch, make small circles (circular petrissage) around the base of the breast several times.
  • Place both open hands on either side of the areola and lightly slide outward. (If this was the face of a clock, your hands would be positioned at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. After a few outward strokes, change the placement of your hands above and below the areola (6 o'clock and 12 o'clock).
  • Repeat the same massage on the other breast.

There are several acupuncture points that can ease breast soreness and engorgement and encourage milk let-down. For example:

  • Trace up along a vertical nipple line to under both clavicles. This sensitive point is Stomach 13. Press for a count of 6-10, repeating six times.
  • Trace down (following the vertical nipple line) to the start of the breast tissue. This is Stomach 16. Press for a count of 6-10, repeating a total of six times.
  • In the middle of the sternum you can locate Conception Vessel 17 (CV 17). This also is a sensitive point that sometimes feels bruised. Hold for the same count noted above.
  • The powerful nursing point Gall Bladder 21 (GB 21) is found on the top of the trapezius, slightly posterior. These points usually are very dimensional and sensitive. Stimulating this point may encourage milk let-down.25

Another wonderful recipe for engorgement is the ginger compress. Grate one cup of peeled ginger root and secure it in a cheese cloth. Place the ginger in 1 quart of water, which you bring up to the boiling point. Turn off the heat once the water starts to boil and leave the ginger in the heated water for about a half hour, or until the water takes on a yellow tinge. Let the water cool enough before placing two washcloths in the liquid. Wring them out (make sure the water is a comfortable temperature) and place a washcloth on each breast. When the cloths cool, put them back into the water.26

Nipple care also is an important part of healthy breasts. If the nipples crack after the first few days of nursing or if there is pain while nursing, the new mother should try a different nursing position and speak with her doctor, midwife or a lactation consultant for more advice. Avoid using soap while bathing and express a few drops of milk on the nipples to keep them supple. Or, rupture the veins of a cabbage leaf and wear them in the bra. Old tea bags also work, but they can stain your clothing. One drop of rose oil is very effective, but the nipples must be cleaned before nursing. Lansinoh, an over-the-counter product, also is a wonderful remedy for sore or cracked nipples, but cannot be used by women with lanolin allergies. After each feeding, the nipples should air dry before mom gets dressed. Make sure the wet nursing pads are replaced to avoid discomfort.27

For Those Who Can't or Won't

This seemingly instinctive behavior is a learned behavior. Not every new mother can or chooses to nurse and not every baby can easily nurse. The important concept is that the baby is fed, loved and nurtured. While it commonly is accepted that "breast is best," the choices a new mother makes about her body and her child need our support and respect.


  1. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, American Academy of Pediatrics Work Group on Breastfeeding, Pediatrics, Vol 100, No.6, Dec. 1997.
  2. Howie PW, Forsyth JS, Ogston SA, et al. Protective effect of breast feeding against infection. Br Med J.1990; 300:11-16.
  3. Kovar, MG, Serdula MK, Marks JS, et al. Review of the epidemiologic evidence for an association between infant feeding and infant health. Pediatrics, 1984; 74:S625-S638.
  4. Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen-Rivers LA. Difference in morbidity between breast-fed and formula-fed infants. J Pediatr. 1995; 126:696-702.
  5. Frank AL, Taber LH, Glezen WP, et al. Breastfeeding and respiratory virus infection. Pediatrics, 1982; 70:239-245.
  6. Wrigiht AI, Holberg CJ, Martinez FD, et al. Breastfeeding and lower respiratory tract illness in the first year of life. Br Med J. 1989; 299:945-949.
  7. Saarinen UM. Prolonged breastfeeding as prophylaxis for recurrent otitis media. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1982; 71:567-571.
  8. Duncan B, Ey J, Holberg CJ, et al. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least four months protects against otitis media. Pediatrics, 1993; 91:867-872.
  9. Paradise JL, Elster BA, Tan L. Evidence in infants with cleft palate that breast milk protects against otitis media. Pediatrics, 1994; 94:853-860.
  10. Pisacane A, Graziano L, Mazzarella G, et al. Breastfeeding and urinary tract infection. J Pediatr, 1992; 120:87-89.
  11. Lucas A, Brooke OG, Morley R, et al. Early diet of preterm infants and development of allergic or atopic disease: randomised prospective study. Br Med J, 1990; 300:837-840.
  12. Ford RPK, Taylor BJ, Mitchell EA, et al. Breastfeeding and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Int J Epidemiol. 1993; 22:885-890.
  13. Morrow-Tlucak M, Haude RH, Ernhart CB. Breastfeeding and cognitive development in the first 2 years of life. Soc Sci Med. 1988; 7:395-399.
  14. Wang YS, Wu SY. The effect of exclusive breastfeeding on development and incidence of infection in infants. J Hum Lactation. 1996; 12:27-30.
  15. Galst, Liz, "Babies Aren't the Only Beneficiaries of Breast-Feeding." New York Times, June 22, 2003.
  16. Ibid
  17. Chua S, Arulkumaran S, Lim I, et al. Influence of breastfeeding and nipple stimulation on postpartum uterine activity. Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1994; 101:804-805.
  18. Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen LA. Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993; 58:162-166.
  19. Melton LJ, Bryant SC, Wahner HW, et al. Influence of breastfeeding and other reproductive factors on bone mass later in life. Osteoporos Int. 19193; 3:76-83.
  20. Rosenblatt KA, Thomas DB. WHO Collaborative Study of Neoplasia and Steroid Contraceptives. Int J Epidemiol. 1993; 22:192-197.
  21. Newcomb PA, Storer BE, Longnecker MP, et al. N Engl J Med; 1994; 330:81-87.
  22. Galst, op cit
  23. Ibid
  24. Ibid
  25. Stillerman, Elaine, LMT. MotherMassage: A Handbook for Relieving the Discomforts of Pregnancy. Dell Publishing: New York, NY, 1992.
  26. Ibid
  27. Ibid