Massage and Bowen Therapy and the Breastfeeding Woman
In Part 1 you were introduced to Bowen Therapy and Massage Therapy, in part 2 you’ll learn some of the ways that these two modalities can assist you and your baby on your breastfeeding journey.
Stress Relief and Relaxation
Bowen and Massage Therapy relaxes muscles, releases fascia, increases circulation and lowers stress hormones, bringing relaxation and stress relief to the entire body. Treatment of the back, neck, shoulders and chest can release tension and reduce muscle pain through the upper body allowing the mother to be more relaxed and comfortable while breastfeeding, and keeping stress hormones down. A simple relaxation massage can be enough to release those ‘feel good’ endorphins, creating a more soothing environment in which to feed your baby.
Increasing circulation to the chest area may aid with nipple vasoconstriction, and help the lymphatic system to remove excess fluids and waste products from the breast area. This is particularly important if mastitis or blocked ducts are an issue.
A 2011/2012 study of 220 breastfeeding mothers over a period of 16 months showed that back massage alone, performed simply down either side of the spine, can significantly impact on areas of breastfeeding. Results showed that those babies whose mothers received massage had an increase in post feed baby weight gain, a greater number of urinations and passing of stools (indicating a larger feed), and a longer duration of post feed sleep. Further studies have shown similar results, including a study of mothers giving birth via C-section.
Hormone Regulation and the Endocrine system
Post partum body work increases the lactation hormones prolactin and oxytocin, and decreases oestrogen, progesterone and cortisol (stress hormone). High oestrogen levels after birth can make it difficult for you to breastfeed your baby. This may be due to a condition known as oestrogen dominance, which involves high levels of oestrogen and low levels of progesterone. As these high levels of oestrogen mimic those of pregnancy, your body may continue to behave as though pregnant after your baby's birth. As such, oestrogen dominance may block prolactin's milk-producing abilities, potentially preventing you from lactating sufficiently after you give birth.
Massage and Bowen Therapy increases general circulation of the endocrine system and thus helps with the transport of hormones. The nervous system and the endocrine system work together to release prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones responsible for milk production and let down. Oxytocin causes a contraction of the myoepithelial cells of the nipples creating the let down of breast milk. Milk forms because of prolactin, made in the mother’s pituitary gland, and secretes because of oxytocin when stimulated by an infant’s suckling. This relies on the nervous system getting messages clearly to the brain, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to secrete prolactin and activate oxytocin. Massage and Bowen Therapy help to relax the tissue and fascia of the breast to allow for easier transmission of messages through the nerves.
Breast massage, whether self administered or by a professional, not only helps promote lactation, it reduces pain caused by swelling and engorgement, improves lymphatic drainage, and increases blood circulation. Massage and Bowen Therapy relaxes, and provides pain relief, to the muscles of the chest, neck, shoulders, arms and back, making breastfeeding and holding your baby more comfortable. A study of mothers in 2011 indicated that breast massage in the first 10 days postpartum decreases breast pain, decreases sodium in breast milk and improves newborn suckling.
Massaging your breasts can clear blocked milk ducts causing milk to flow more freely, and assist with the tenderness caused by blocked ducts. Massage helps empty the breasts and trigger a higher milk production. Mastitis can cause a great deal of pain and should be seen to by your GP and your friendly neighbourhood lactation consultant. The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends gently massaging the breast by stroking toward the nipple while your baby feeds. Applying gentle pressure behind the lumpy area may help move the blockage. I’ve included a link on how to self massage breasts below.
Links to breast self massage – http://www.ardomedical.com/Breast_massage.html
Massage and Bowen Therapy have some terrific benefits for breastfeeding – reducing pain, alleviating stress, promoting relaxation, assisting with hormone balance, lymphatic drainage, and releasing tissues to help with the transportation of nerve impulses, hormones, blood and lymph. But one of the best reasons to have body work is simply because you deserve it. Have someone care for you, meet the needs of your tired, aching body in a caring, safe space. An hour to yourself and for yourself.