December 12, 2023/Women's Health

6 Benefits of Breast Massage (and How To Get Started Today)

Massaging your breast tissue can help reduce breastfeeding pain, treat lymphedema and find cancer early

woman giving herself a breast massage and examination

Breasts go through a lot. We shove them into bras, beg them to defy gravity, rely on them to feed infants and take them for annual mammograms.

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To show your breasts some TLC — and reap extra health benefits — consider breast massage. It involves gently pressing on and moving the soft tissue of your breasts.

“Like massaging your feet, back or shoulders, breast massage is a form of nurturing and self-care,” says breast surgical oncologist Margaret Thompson, MD. “But the benefits stretch beyond relaxation.”

Benefits of breast massage

Breast (chest) massage can enhance your wellness like other forms of massage therapy. Dr. Thompson discusses the benefits of breast massage, including:

1. Helps find breast cancer

Breast massage and breast self-exams are very similar. Both allow you to feel bumps and lumps in your breast tissue.

“Massaging your breasts is a great way to do regular self-exams,” Dr. Thompson says. “We encourage it because it helps you know your breasts and what’s normal for you. If something concerning, like a breast lump, does develop, you’ll recognize it and get it checked sooner.”

Examining your breasts regularly can help find breast cancer early, increasing the likelihood of successful treatment. If you’re using breast massage to screen yourself for cancer, Dr. Thompson recommends doing it monthly, a week after your period, when you may not have breast tenderness.

2. Reduces pain from breastfeeding (chestfeeding)

Lactating (producing milk) can be painful if you experience engorgement (overfull breasts), clogged milk ducts or mastitis (inflamed breast tissue). But breast massage may help.

In one study, people experiencing pain from lactation found that breast massage immediately improved their pain level. After 12 weeks of regular breast massage, 65% said the massaging was very helpful.

Another study found that two 30-minute breast massages in the first 10 days after giving birth reduced discomfort due to lactation and breastfeeding.

“Breast massage can release or relieve plugged milk ducts and engorgement,” Dr. Thompson explains. “You’ll have less pain, which can increase the quantity of your milk.”

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3. Helps treat lymphedema

Your lymphatic system helps your body avoid infection. It helps flush out toxins (waste fluids) from your breasts. But sometimes, those fluids can build up (lymphedema). More than 20% of people with breast cancer develop lymphedema — typically after surgery or radiation therapy.

“Massaging your breasts helps the lymphatic system and can manually relieve the lymph nodes that drain the breast,” Dr. Thompson says.

Research shows that performing breast massage in addition to compression therapy — the typical treatment for lymphedema — showed more significant symptom improvement than compression alone.

“But ask your surgeon or doctor before using massage for lymphatic drainage,” stresses Dr. Thompson. “They’ll give you individualized instructions if it’s part of your treatment plan.”

4. Enhances the appearance of breasts

No conclusive evidence shows that breast massage helps improve or fix sagging breasts. But breast massage, especially with oils, may help improve the firmness of breast skin.

“A gentle massage helps improve your skin’s strength and elasticity,” Dr. Thompson says. “You may be able to decrease or even prevent stretch marks.”

5. Eases pectoral (chest muscle) soreness

The muscles beneath your breasts are called pectoral muscles. They enable your arms to have a wide range of motion. But when you lift something heavy or do upper body strength training, your pectoral muscles can get sore.

“Massaging your breasts can also relieve pain and tension in the pectoral muscles,” Dr. Thompson says.

She adds that tense back muscles can also strain your pectoral muscles, so if your upper back is also sore, breast massage may help.

6. Relieves stress

Massaging anywhere on your body — including your breasts — helps relieve stress. It can also increase sexual intimacy.

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“Massage and sexual intimacy both release oxytocin, our pleasure hormone,” Dr. Thompson explains. “It can help relax your entire body.”

How to massage breasts

How you massage your breasts may change slightly depending on the reason for the massage. Dr. Thompson offers some general recommendations.

Find a comfortable massage method

To get the most benefit from a breast massage, find a convenient method that puts you at ease.

“Use the massage method you’re most comfortable with,” Dr. Thomson advises. “Some people prefer to massage their breasts in the shower so their fingers can glide easily over their skin. Others prefer to lie down or sit in front of a mirror. In those cases, use baby oil, massage oil or olive oil to make it easier.”

Use a pattern to massage your entire breast

Apply light pressure while walking your fingers across your breast or massaging in small circles. To ensure you massage your entire breast, Dr. Thompson recommends using a pattern like:

  • Circular motion. Work around your breast from nipple to base.
  • Lawn mower motion. Work back and forth in rows.
  • Radial clock motion. Massage from the center of the “clock” (your nipple), out to 12 o’clock, then out to 1 o’clock, and so on until you’ve moved clockwise around your breast.

Take additional steps when needed

If you’re doing a breast massage for specific medical reasons, you may need to pay more attention to how you massage your breasts. Dr. Thompson offers tips for people doing breast massage to:

  • Drain lymph nodes. Follow instructions from your healthcare provider and massage your underarm and upper arm area in addition to your breasts.
  • Hand-express milk. Massage gently to express milk, using a light touch. At the end, position your hand like a “C” or “U” shape around your nipple. Gently squeeze your nipple to release milk.
  • Screen for cancer. This breast self-exam starts with examining your breasts visually in the mirror to note any changes. Then, while massaging, feel for lumps in your nipple and underarm area.

Are there risks to breast massage?

Regular breast massage may keep your breasts healthier and increase the chances you’ll notice a breast lump or issue immediately.

“If you feel a lump, have nipple discharge or notice skin changes, see your healthcare professional,” Dr. Thompson states. “If you’re healthy and massaging for your well-being, do it as often as you like. There are no disadvantages to doing it every day if it makes you feel good.”

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