Blocked Chinese moms turn to breast masseuses

The Globe and Mail

Yu Qiuyan holds her newborn baby girl Li Muhua at the Antai maternity hospital in Beijing on Jan. 26, 2012. As China welcomes the year of the dragon -- considered to be the most auspicious zodiac symbol in the Chinese lunar calendar -- the country is expecting a 5-per-cent increase in the number of babies born in 2012, state-run news agency Xinhua has reported. (ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

Would you have your breasts massaged for $47 an hour?

The Shanghai Daily reports on “ the hottest new job” in China’s burgeoning postpartum care market: cui ru shi – that’s “push milk teachers.”

Over 90-minute massage sessions, these breast masseuses clear new mothers' blocked milk ducts “by putting pressure on the right spots,” said Wang Xiaohong, a Beijing “lactogogue” who sees six clogged clients a day.

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The demand for breast masseuses is rising in the country as women race to give birth in the Chinese lunar Year of the Dragon. To boot, families are devoting more time to their only children, the Daily reports. China requires no formal qualifications for lactogogues, however. (More traditional Chinese methods have involved herbal soups, running a wooden comb over breasts or placing fermented dough atop them.)

For the uninitiated, a clogged duct feels like a painful, hard lump – it means that milk has dried inside and blocked the passageway. It’s often the result of missed feedings, especially when infants are sleeping through the night for the first time or mothers are in the process of weaning their babies. Sometimes it’s caused when the baby doesn’t latch on properly and the ducts aren’t completely emptied.

How is the issue dealt with in North America?

“People will massage themselves,” said Esther Willms, a registered midwife in Toronto who’s never heard of the professional practice. She adds: “Most blocked ducts clear up on their own.”

If they don’t, Ms. Willms recommends using a warm compress beforehand, massaging from behind the blocked duct during feedings and applying an ice pack or cold cabbage leaves afterward.

“In Canada, we're more of a do-it-yourself kind of culture,” says Anne Kirkham, a La Leche League Canada leader in Toronto who recommends breastfeeding on the affected side eight to 12 times over 24 hours.

So are Chinese mothers being taken for the proverbial ride?

Not necessarily, Ms. Willms says, arguing that the women are being educated in the process, and that an untreated clog can lead to mastitis, a painful infection.

“People pay other people to do all kinds of things that, normally, we used to do ourselves or that family members would do. It’s just another thing we have available now.”

Do you think a service like this should be available in Canada?