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Breast self-exam and massage & why you should do it on the reg

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Yes, breast self-care is a thing.

Self-care for your boobies is not only a thing, but it can also be a life-saver.

Checking your breasts religiously on your own can help you detect lumps or abnormalities and allow you to see your GP to get them medically checked once you notice a change. In fact, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are first detected by women who feel a lump. [1]

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, you should do a breast self-exam once every month. To make sure you keep up and make this a regular thing, schedule in a breast self-exam sesh after your monthly period ends, when your boobs are least tender.

While you’re at it, why not take it one step further and slowly knead your way into a breast massage? A breast massage is more than a simple act of rubbing your chest; it is an ancient practice with roots in the Ayurvedic practice called abhyanga.

Ayurveda—Sanskirt for “knowledge of life”— is a 5000-year-old healing wisdom that originates from India, and teaches that in order for a person to be in a state of balance, the whole body and mind must be addressed and no part shall be excluded, including your breasts.

The practice of abhyanga involves self-massage in light, gentle, circular strokes, using large amounts of herbal oil to promote a sense of well-being. Abhyanga is mentioned in Ayurvedic texts as a daily ritual that promotes both skin and overall health.

What are the benefits of breast massage?

Bodies of research have found that breast massage is associated with stress relief, not to mention it’s also a pretty good form of self-care. In addition to relieving tension, self-massage can center your mind, body and bring an overall sense of feel-good well-being.

In fact, clinical practices include breast massage as one of the supportive care approaches for breast cancer patients, that is helpful for relieving stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue and quality of life. [2]

1. Helps reduce stress and tension

Breast massage is supposed to be a relaxing affair. Like body massages, it should induce the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. This helps to boost mood, reduce stress and tension.

2. Improve lymphatic drainage

The breasts are part of our lymphatic system, which comprises a complex network of vessels, ducts, lymph nodes and included our spleen, thymus, tonsils and adenoids. Lymphatic vessels act as a drainage system, removing waste from every cell in our body.

Just like a clogged sink, congested lymph nodes and vessels leads to toxin buildup, weakening our immunity and causing a variety of issues for our health. Like any other body massages, a breast massage can help clear up blockages and help with circulation and detoxing, too.

3. More breast milk for breastfeeding mothers

A study in Japan found that breast massage significantly increased not just the quantity of breast milk, but also the quality of milk; breast massage increased total solids, lipid content, casein and gross energy.

How to do breast self-exam and breast massage?

Video via Singapore Cancer Society

A breast self-exam is really akin to giving yourself some tender-loving care, and can conveniently be simplified into the acronym TLC – Touch, Look, Check. Watch the video above by the Singapore Cancer Society for the simple steps on how to perform a breast self-exam.

Here are some common breast cancer symptoms to look out for:

  • Feeling lumps or swellings in the breast, upper chest or armpit
  • A change to the breast skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • A change in the colour of your breasts, e.g. red or inflamed
  • A change to the nipple, e.g. pulled in (inverted) nipples
  • Rash or crusting around the nipple
  • Unusual discharge from the nipple
  • Changes in size or shape of your breasts

If you do find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out, but don’t panic just yet: 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. Schedule in your breast self-exams once a month, even if you are breastfeeding, pregnant or have had breast implants done before.

For those who are in their 40s, breast checking should also be combined with health screenings like mammograms. Females above 50 years of age become more at risk of breast cancer, so it’s good practice to schedule in mammogram tests once every two years. [3]

Unlike a breast self-exam that involves mainly checking, a breast massage is meant to be more sensuous and soothing, and to keep the lymph flowing. For starters, you will need to get some herbal oil or just use whatever oils you have on hand — coconut, olive, rosehip oils.

Here’s how to perform a breast self-massage: [4]

Step 1: Find a spot in your home that is comfortable and free of distractions and come into a comfortable seated position

Step 2: Rub your favorite oil between your palms until it is heated up

Step 3: Gently massage your breast in a circular motion, 30 times in each direction, moving the lymph toward the armpit. Repeat on the other breast.

Step 4: Cup one breast in two hands, gently pulling away from the body, and then pushing it back in. Repeat this pumping motion several times on each breast.

You should be applying a light and gentle pressure, the same sort you’d use to stroke your pet.

According the wellness center specializing in breast massage, therapeutic breast massage involves little direct contact with the breasts themselves and no contact at all with the nipple. Instead, gentle pressure in the neighbouring areas like the chest and shoulder, to release tight connective tissue.

Lastly, infuse meditation into your breast care practice. When you touch your breasts, do so with gratitude and tenderness. It’s not a search-for-lumps-and-destroy sort of activity; it’s really about giving yourself love, nourishment and compassion. And about letting go any pain, resentment or bitterness you may be harbouring.

Let go of all that no longer serves you and make a clean breast of it.

 

References

[1] National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Breast Self-Exam. Retrieved from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam

[2] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Massage Therapy: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/massage-therapy-what-you-need-to-know

[3] SingHealth (2016). The landscape of breast cancer screening and treatment in Singapore – how well do we know it, from https://www.singhealth.com.sg/news/medical-news/landscape-breast-cancer-screening-treatment-singapore

[4] The Benefits of Therapeutic Breast Massage (2017). Retrieved from Chopra via https://chopra.com/articles/the-benefits-of-therapeutic-breast-massage

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