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Breasts massage therapy to help new mothers

By Liu Zhihua (China Daily)

13:18, November 21, 2012

Lactation consultant Ma Wei uses massage therapy to help young mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding their newborn babies. (Du Lianyi / China Daily)

Many young Chinese mothers need help these days to breastfeed their babies, and this need has given rise to a brand-new profession, the lactation expert. Liu Zhihua finds out why these women are having difficulty performing what should come naturally.

The World Health Organization has actively encouraged breastfeeding, citing banks of research data that conclude it is good for both mother and child. It is the best source of nourishment for the very young, it reduces the risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, it lowers the rate of obesity and helps the mother shed pregnancy weight gain faster. Young mothers in China, like anywhere else in the world, realize the value of breastfeeding and many urban females, like their rural cousins, are breastfeeding their newborns. In the process, however, many are also discovering that it is not as easy as they thought.

And so, for problems such as distended breasts or shortage of milk, or just ignorance on how to go about feeding their babies properly, they are consulting lactation experts. These are specialists who help new mothers breastfeed their infants better with massage and breastfeeding instructions. But the trend is very new.

"If anyone told me five years ago I would become a lactation consultant, I would think it was a joke and laugh it off, because I had never heard of it," says Ma Wei, 35, a lactation consultant in Beijing.

When her own daughter was born in 2007, her milk would not flow, and her breasts became engorged. She found out from friends that there were lactation consultants who can massage the breasts so the milk can flow better.

In 2011 when her daughter started kindergarten, Ma decided to take a course which included traditional Chinese medicine, work ethics, psychology, massage and nutrition, and she obtained certification from an authorized institute under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Then she started business as a lactation consultant.

She began by offering her services to friends and acquaintances, and gave massages, breastfeeding directions and nutrition advice. Her popularity stunned her, and still does.

"In just five years, lactation consultants have become common," Ma says. "There are so many who are distributing business cards at the maternity wards and posting advertisements on Internet. Everyone knows about the service now," Ma says.

Ma can cater to five clients a day at maximum, and charges 400 to 500 yuan ($64-80) each time for about two hours' service. She now owns a studio, and hires eight lactation consultants.

"The demand is very high, and people are willing to pay for it," says Zhang Yushi, a young mother of two children in Chengdu, Sichuan province, who initiated a non-governmental organization providing lactation consultant service to new mothers early this year.

"Young mothers need instruction and help to breastfeed their children, because many of them are not prepared or they may have listened to the wrong advice unawares."

Zhang says her NGO, Breastfeeding Mothers' Home, has helped hundreds from both Chengdu and nearby cities through providing massage and breastfeeding instructions offline in less than a year, not counting those who seek help from them through the Internet.

The reasons behind the demand, Zhang says, are that there is so much misleading information about breastfeeding and infant nutrition in daily life, that young people cannot tell what is correct.

Most young mothers in the cities come from a one-child family, and even their mothers are not as experienced in child-rearing.

Being more affluent, too, means that people are willing to pay for help, especially when they think such assistance is beneficial to both mother and child, Zhang adds.

Jia Tao, mother to a 3-month-old boy, has been visiting a lactation consultant for the last month for breast massages at a cost of 400 yuan each time. Her parents accompany her.

"The service is expensive, but we are happy to pay. My daughter feels better after the massage," says her father, adding that going to hospitals is out of the question, because doctors and nurses are often too busy to invest enough care and patience.

Jia has been suffering from distended breasts and a low fever since her son was 1 month old.

One night, her baby refused to feed, no matter how hard Jia tried. She resorted to using a pump, but her breasts still became engorged and she then developed mastitis and low fever. That finally led her to seek the help of a lactation consultant.

"Many mothers give the baby a feeding bottle when it doesn't feed from the breasts. That is totally wrong," says Xu Yang, matron with the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics of China-Japan Friendship Hospital at Beijing.

Sucking from the bottle is a lot easier than feeding from the mother's breasts, and many babies will turn to the bottle and refuse mother's milk, Xu explains.

"A better choice is to encourage the baby to suck from the breasts even though it cries, and use a spoon to feed it milk if it gets too hungry," Xu says.

"But in a family where a baby is the apple of the eye of both parents and grandparents, many surrender as soon as the baby cries."

Lai Shasha, 29, quarreled with her husband when her milk did not flow and he wanted to feed it milk formula. Her husband won the argument because of support from friends, family and even nurses in the maternity ward.

But her baby became confused and later refused to drink her milk, and she had to seek help from a lactation consultant, who helped cure the engorgement and allowed her baby to feed again.

More importantly, the consultant convinced her husband breastfeeding is still the best practice. But not every lactation consultant is as helpful.

For Wu Shasha, a 28-year-old accountant in Beijing, the first two lactation consultants she went to were nightmares.

She gave birth to a baby boy on Sept 17, but her milk did not flow until the next day. Even after that, it was intermittent, and Wu took various foods to encourage better milk production.

She also used a milk-pump, but things only got worse as her nipples became infected and her breasts became swollen.

She sought help from lactation consultants who massaged her breasts too hard. Although the flow increased, her breasts hurt, and she developed mastitis.

She went to a doctor, who said her breasts got infected because the massage was too violent. But he had no advice on how to make her breastfeeding easier.

Finally, she located a reputable lactation consultant through recommendations from online forums. Her new lactation consultant makes her feel relaxed and comfortable during the massage sessions and Wu no longer experiences pain.

"There is no officially recognized professional standard for lactation consultants, and there are so many irresponsible or unqualified ones out there."

For Wu, it was a painful lesson. Her advice to mothers looking for help is: Do your homework, and never hire a lactation consultant carelessly.

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