It might not be part of your everyday massage, but there are some health benefits.
BY MARA SANTILLI APR 7, 2020 for Women’s Health Magazine
When you hear the term “breast massage,” you might think of breast self-exams for lumps. But there’s a whole other kind of breast massage that’s much more pleasurable than a self-check (though you should definitely be doing those, too!).
Breast massage is meant to be a practice of self-love, first of all, and if done correctly and with consent from the client, it can help with stress relief, improving circulation, and releasing pain and breast tenderness.
It might not be on the menu at your local spa or part of your typical full-body massage, but that’s only because touching the breasts is not typically seen as a “comfortable” aspect of traditional Western-style massage. But breast massage has roots in Ayurvedic tradition, explains Alexa Berman, a clinical Ayurveda practitioner. This type of massage is often available at spas that practice Ayurveda.
Curious? Here’s what happens during a breast massage, how it can potentially improve your breast health, and how to practice some self-care on your own breasts.
What exactly is a breast massage?
So, again, a breast massage is not the same thing as a breast self-exam, which is also crucial to evaluating your normal breast health (some studies have found that 25 percent of women discovered evidence of breast cancer by doing self-exams). Breast self-exams involve palpating the breast tissue, and examining yourself regularly from all angles. It’s not really meant to be a relaxing process.
Breast massages, on the other hand, are meant for self-nurturing, Berman says. They’re done within the context of an Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage, or a full-body massage with oil. If you visit an Ayurvedic practitioner, they will massage the breasts in a circular motion, and then move to the armpits and breastbone as well. Or if you choose, you can practice breast massage on yourself using the same techniques (more on that below).
What are the health benefits of breast massage?
It depends on the person and their breasts, but there are a number of potential breast health and mental health benefits to this type of massage. Here are some of the main reasons experts say breast massage can help you.
Keep in mind, though, there really isn’t scientific research on breast massage—so think of the benefits as anecdotal. Breast massage isn’t harmful, though, so it’s totally fine to experiment with it.
It can relieve tension from the breasts.
“From an Ayurvedic perspective, breast massage has a lot to do with releasing tension,” Berman says. “If you don’t get massage, your breasts can get stagnant, since they’re made up primarily of fatty tissue.” Manipulating the area adds movement, and can help clear the channels where fat builds up, she explains. Stagnation in your fat tissue can contribute to benign lumps or bumps forming, and bringing heat and additional circulation to the area may help break that up, according to Berman.
Breast massage can improve your circulation and help with breastfeeding.
Massaging the breasts is helpful to stimulate blood flow to the mammary glands, says Jamie Bacharach, a licensed massage therapist and medical acupuncturist. “Circulation is important in the breast area because it has been demonstrated to release oxytocin, a hormone which inhibits stress and depression,” Bacharach says.
Not only that, but it can help new moms who choose to breastfeed in a big way: Regularly massaging the breasts can keep the milk, along with the blood flow, moving through the breasts and may make the whole process easier and less painful.
Breast massage may aid lymphatic drainage.
The breasts are part of the lymphatic system (so are the armpits), which can become congested and have blockages, particularly if you’ve had a surgery in the chest or breast area. Massaging and releasing stagnation in the chest area can help detox the lymphatic system—you may feel a release from your sinuses and feel the need to blow your nose afterward, Berman says. It’s important to work or have the practitioner work especially on the armpits, where the lymph nodes are concentrated, for additional release, Berman adds. (If you have had surgery in the chest or breast area, speak with your doctor about breast massage first.
Breast massage can provide relief from swelling.
During your period or if you’re breastfeeding, you may experience achy, sore boobs that could use a little bit of TLC from breast massage.
What’s great about Ayurvedic breast massage, Berman says, is that by using oil, and then finishing off the massage with heat (a bath, shower, sauna, or hot towel), you’re opening up the pores and allowing the oil (which, at the spa, is typically blended with herbs) to seep into your skin and deeper into your tissues. “If you have tenderness or swelling, this oil application followed by a bath or shower that allows the oil to seep deeper in will help with pain and inflammation,” Berman says..
Breast massage can be beneficial for stress relief
A massage should be meditative, and especially a massage to such a sensitive area. “Remember to touch with love and compassion,” Berman says. “The intention in your hands will leave an impression on your nervous system and you want that to be positive healing energy.”
As long as you’re not approaching the massage with anxious or angry thoughts, it can be a great stress reliever.
How do you perform a breast massage?
It’s just as simple to practice a breast massage on yourself at home than it is to go to an Ayurvedic spa, if you’d feel more comfy at home.
Of course, it’s important to start in a mindful mental space, and then also find a quiet, peaceful physical space. It’s best to use a basic heated oil, like organic sunflower or sesame oil, Berman suggests. You should start with massaging each breast in a circular motion, moving from the nipple toward the outside of the breasts. It’s important to work on one breast at a time and without adding too much pressure, Bacharach adds, especially if you start to feel soreness.
Then, move to the armpit and outer edge of the breast, moving upward toward the shoulder joint to help detoxify the lymph nodes and unclog any ducts, says Berman. Give your collarbone, shoulder and neck some love on both sides before moving to the breastbone. Finish with a massage in the center of the breastbone, in a slow clockwise circle.
At the end of the massage, Berman advises taking a hot shower or bath to allow the oil to absorb into your pores. You don’t need to use soap though, because the oil is meant to cleanse your skin, she says. Or, if you want to skip the shower, you can wrap yourself in a warm towel and relax for a bit—the oil will seep into your skin as you rest.
In general, it’s safe to practice breast massage, even if you’re breastfeeding. Just consult your doctor first if you have a condition that’s making breastfeeding painful or sore, Bacharach says. If you’ve recently had a mastectomy, it would be best to wait a couple of weeks before performing a breast massage, and then start gently, she suggests. (And talk to your doctor about touching the area, just to make sure you’re cleared to do so.)
But once your stitches are removed, breast massage can be a healing post-op practice. It’s a loving and relaxing self-care practice too. Ayurvedic breast massage is not intended to be sexual by nature, but getting in touch with your body is important, and getting pleasure from it only boosts the benefits, experts say.