My family believed in hilot, which I often thought of as pamahiin. But it didn't stop me from letting my father's cousin, a hilot expert, do her magic on me after I gave birth. If I remembered it correctly, she ran her palm gently on my upper chest area outwards from the cleavage, around the breasts, and then at the back area, too, near the neck and shoulders.
Of course, hilot is what many now call as a breast or lactation massage, and it's no old wives' tale. Nursing moms rave about its benefits today. "When done properly, breast massage can be beneficial in increasing the amount of milk expressed by hand or by breast pump, and for helping remove blockages in milk ducts," Sylvia Malabanan of L.A.T.C.H. Philippines, a non-profit breastfeeding advocacy group, told SmartParenting.com.ph via email.
She added that it could also help breastfeeding moms relax and add to a stress-free breastfeeding experience.
There are many ways to do a lactation massage. One was my Tita's technique, which is essentially freeing up the lymph nodes on the surrounding area of the breasts. Some moms advocate massaging the breast similar to manual hand-expressing breast milk.
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Another is the massage-stroke-shake (M-S-S) technique, which can help improve milk flow. Here's how to do it, per the instruction of Susan Cordon of La Leche League in San Francisco, California: "After five to seven minutes of pumping or feeding, stop to massage both breasts simultaneously in a circular motion similar to a breast self-exam. Stroke both breasts all the way around from the chest wall to the tip of the nipple in a straight line using only your fingertips. Then cup each breast with your hand, lean forward, and gently shake your breasts."
The massage technique to employ will depend largely on your needs, so we highly recommend consulting a lactation massage expert or breastfeeding counselor.
Lactation massages may be included in breastfeeding seminars and held by L.A.T.C.H. Arugaan offers lactation massage for nursing women suffering from plugged ducts for a reasonable fee. Plugged ducts happen when your baby doesn't empty your breasts during feeding, or when you skip pumping sessions. The lactation massage expert's home visits also come with counseling and instruction, so nursing moms can eventually do it themselves.
Overseas, lactation massage has proven to be so beneficial that a company invested in creating the new first-of-its-kind breastfeeding aid: the LaVie Lactation massager. After putting a warm compress on the breast, and with the help of lotion or oil, the massager applies gentle pressure and vibration to the breasts, which in turn helps improve milk flow and helps ease pain caused by plugged ducts, engorged breasts, or mastitis. (Watch its how-to video here.)
But do all breastfeeding moms need lactation massage? "While it is a good skill to learn, it is not necessary for breastfeeding success for most mother-baby dyads," Malabanan shared. "Many mothers who have never massaged their breasts yet were able to breastfeed their children successfully and optimally."
Luckily, my tita, my father's cousin, is a hilot, and her specialties include pregnant women, new moms, and newborn babies. She would travel to Manila every week or two to give me a postnatal massage, including one which involved running her palm on my upper chest area near the cleavage and around my breasts, and on my back near the neck and shoulders