How and When to Use a Lactation Massager
Breastfeeding can be a beautiful, bonding experience, but it’s far from easy. Sore nipples, clogged milk ducts and low milk supply are just a few of the issues nursing parents may contend with. But don’t let these common complaints sour your experience—most ailments can be safely treated at home. While it certainly isn’t a fix-all solution, gentle lactation massage can ease breast pain, loosen clogs and stimulate milk supply. Of course, you can always use your hands, but a lactation massager is great if you’re after a quick fix or want to target certain areas. But what exactly is a lactation massager, and does it really work? We’ve got all the information you need to know about these nifty gadgets, plus our picks of the best lactation massagers on the market.
A lactation massager is a small, handheld device that uses vibration and, in some cases, heat to stimulate the breast tissue and break up clogs. Typically made from silicone, these palm-sized massagers can be helpful in a pinch, but aren’t always necessary for nursing moms. According to Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a certified lactation consultant in New York City, massagers work well for people that aren’t comfortable handling their breasts—or those with carpal tunnel syndrome or other conditions that make it hard to manually manipulate.
New guidelines from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) advise against deep-tissue massage for parents dealing with mastitis. However, gentle sweeping motions with your hands or light stimulation with a lactation massager may be soothing and helpful. “The idea is that you wouldn’t press the massager too vigorously or aim for any kind of deep-tissue massage,” explains Wendy Wisner, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant in New York City.
While it isn’t a necessity for new parents, a lactation massager can be a helpful tool if you choose to pump or breastfeed. Below, the three main benefits of using a lactation massager.
Stimulate milk flow. Everyone is different, but for some people, light massage can stimulate the flow of breastmilk. Although lactation massage doesn’t increase milk supply, it can “wake up” the breasts and get your milk flowing, explains Wisner. This is especially helpful if you are about to nurse, as it entices baby to latch and suck more vigorously—and frequent nursing or pumping sessions can increase milk production.
Help to relieve clogged milk ducts. “If milk ducts are blocked, it’s like a traffic jam and the milk doesn’t flow,” explains O’Connor. Alongside frequent nursing or pumping sessions, gentle vibration or light manual massage can help to release blockages that cause clogged milk ducts.
Reduce pain. In addition to vibration, some lactation massagers are designed with a soothing heat setting. Applying a little heat to the affected area can ease the symptoms of painful, engorged breasts. However, it’s important to note that cold compresses—or a combination of the two—are the best way to reduce inflammation. And if you’re having trouble getting your baby to latch, or if the breasts are so engorged that the nipple is flattened, Wisner recommends contacting a lactation consultant for help.
Before unboxing your new gadget read the instructions and, if possible, watch an online demonstration by a reputable lactation massager brand. Wisner warns against deep-tissue massage, as this can actually be counterproductive, so start on the lowest vibration setting. You can always go up a level, as needed… “To use the massager, find the targeted spot and focus on that area, gently moving in a circular motion,” explains O’Connor. It can also be helpful to massage away from the clog, to create more space for the milk to flow, she continues.
Now that you’ve got the basics, you’re ready to browse the options. Here are the five best lactation massagers on the market.
Give your chest a helping hand with Frida Mom’s warming lactation massager. Adjustable heat and vibration modes gently break up obstructions, so milk can start flowing again. The unique looped end and side scoop help to pull out blocked milk and empty your breasts. Meanwhile, the pointed tip can get to work on clogged ducts. It’s made from medical-grade silicone and is water-resistant to boot.
- Heat setting
- Adjustable vibration modes
- Short battery life
Warming lactation massagers are great, but not everyone’s a fan of the sensation. The original lactation massager by LaVie has multiple vibration settings, so you can find the perfect speed for you. The ergonomic design can be used in three different ways: Glide the scooped edge towards the nipple to move milk forward, use the small tip to provide targeted relief to clogged milk ducts and use the flat side to help with sensitivity and engorgement. Plus, the heat-free device is waterproof, meaning you can take it into a hot shower before a nursing session. Good vibes only.
- Five speed settings
- Three-hour battery life
- No heat setting
Next up on our list of the best lactation massagers is this pick by Momcozy. Made from silky-soft silicone, the palm-sized gadget is small enough to slip inside a nursing bra. Gentle vibrations and warming sensations relieve pain and discomfort as you produce milk. It has three adjustable modes, meaning you can use the heat and vibration settings together or separately. It also happens to be waterproof, so it's suitable for use in the shower.
- Two modes and six intensity speeds
- It takes four to five minutes for the massager to warm up
These days there’s a gadget for everything, but if you can’t face having one more device to charge, consider this massage roller by LaVie. This tool offers the same benefits as hands-on lactation massage, and is a good option for parents that dislike vibration. Use the scooped handle to draw milk towards the nipple, and the nobbled roller head to treat pain. Simple yet effective.
- Manual device—no charger required
- Affordable price point
- No heat setting
When it comes to breastfeeding pain, some people prefer cooling relief over a warming sensation. And that’s where the Crane Breast Massager comes in. This non-warming device gently vibrates to help alleviate pain and soothe the discomfort associated with clogged ducts and engorgement. It has three vibration modes and multiple speed settings, so you can customize the intensity to suit your needs. The best part? It comes with cooling gel pads that you can apply to your nipples between nursing or pumping sessions.
- Includes cooling gel pads
- Three vibration modes
- No heat setting
About the experts:
Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, is a New York-based board-certified lactation consultant with more than 20 years of experience. She is a former president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association.
Wendy Wisner, IBCLC, is a board-certified lactation consultant and writer based in New York. She is a former La Leche League leader.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.