Gua Sha for Breast Engorgement: Fast Relief, No Drugs
Breast engorgement is a lactation villain, impacting mothers in the early weeks postpartum. Ignoring it isn't an option - engorgement may lead to unbearable pain, breast infections, and premature weaning. But solutions are limited, and cold compresses only provide slight, temporary relief. In seeking a fast-acting, drug-free treatment for engorgement woes, researchers are now revisiting an ancient Chinese remedy, gua sha. Read on to learn how gua sha can help you survive this common breastfeeding obstacle.
The Risks and Consequences of Breast Engorgement
Breast engorgement occurs when the breasts become overfull of milk. It is caused by milk stasis, which happens when milk is not properly drained from the breasts. Engorgement often peaks around postpartum days 3-5 as milk volume increases. It can occur anytime milk removal is hindered, like when breastfeeding is delayed after birth or feedings are infrequent or ineffective.
Left untreated, engorgement leads to significant issues including:
- Extreme breast tenderness and throbbing pain
- Swelling, redness, and hardness of the breasts
- Difficulty getting a proper latch for breastfeeding
- Decreased milk supply over time
- Nipple trauma like cracks, wounds, or infection
- Premature weaning from breastfeeding
- Increased risk of blocked ducts or mastitis (breast tissue infection)
- Mother-infant bonding and breastfeeding relationship disruption
- Maternal frustration, anxiety, and depression
- Financial costs for medical treatment
The Potential of Gua Sha for Breast Engorgement
Gua sha is a traditional East Asian healing technique that utilizes repetitive stroking of the skin with a smooth-edged instrument. It improves circulation and lymph drainage, reduces inflammation, and relieves pain. Research indicates that gua sha enhances microcirculation in treated areas. When applied to the breast during engorgement, it may work by:
- Promoting milk flow and drainage of the breasts
- Dispersing fluid buildup and edema
- Relaxing tight chest muscles
- Stimulating nerve endings and reflex points
- Increasing blood and lymph circulation
Studies on Gua Sha for Breast Engorgement
Several studies have examined using gua sha to treat breast engorgement and found positive effects:
- A study of 54 women published in the Journal of Nursing Research found that gua sha significantly reduced breast pain, hardness, and engorgement compared to hot packs and massage. Improvements were seen rapidly within 5 minutes of treatment.
- In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, gua sha significantly reduced breast pain, hardness, and engorgement compared to hot packs and massage in just 5 minutes. Both gua sha and hot packs decreased symptoms, but improvements were greater with gua sha.
- According to a study published in the Egyptian Journal of Health Care, Gua-Sha therapy could be a more effective intervention for breast engorgement compared to other treatments studied.
While more research is still needed, these results show that gua sha is a promising therapy for engorgement that brings quick relief. It's affordable, easy to implement, and safe.
How to Use Gua Sha for Breast Engorgement
Proper technique is important to maximize gua sha's effects on engorgement. Follow these tips:
- Use a gua sha tool with a smooth, rounded edge to avoid scraping too deeply. Apply a lubricant-like oil to the breast.
- Focus on acupressure points along the stomach and spleen meridians running over the breasts. Key points are ST18, ST16, SP17 and CV17:
- ST18: This point is located at the top of the breast, in the indentation between the breast tissue and chest muscle near the armpit.
- ST16: This point is on the top of the breast slightly towards the nipple from ST18. It is in the upper, outer quadrant of the breast.
- SP17: This point is located on the side of the breast, below the armpit, in line with the nipple. It is along the edge of the ribcage.
- CV17: This point is in the center of the breastbone, between the breasts. It is at the same level as the nipples.
- Gently scrape over each area 2-5 times towards the nipple using light, steady pressure. Just enough to create mild redness.
- Scrape before breastfeeding when breasts are the hardest. Repeat 1-2 times per day as needed.
- Sessions should last 2-5 minutes. Schedule extra treatments if symptoms are severe.
- Drink lots of water after to facilitate toxin and fluid elimination.
Avoid direct scraping of severely inflamed, infected, or broken skin. Seek medical guidance about gua sha if you have a serious medical condition, are on blood thinners, or are pregnant/breastfeeding.
Complementary Treatments for Breast Engorgement
Gua sha works well with other non-drug therapies for engorgement relief, including:
- Hot/cold compresses: You can use warm compresses before breastfeeding to aid milk flow. Apply cold compresses afterward to reduce swelling.
- Breast massage: This improves circulation and loosens milk ducts. Combine with gua sha.
- Acupuncture: This is shown to decrease breast inflammation and hardness. May enhance gua sha's effects.
- Cabbage leaves - According to a study from the Cochrane Library, cabbage leaves may help relieve engorgement through multiple mechanisms. The leaves are thought to contain compounds that are absorbed through the skin to reduce swelling and improve milk flow. Cabbage leaves are also typically applied chilled, which causes vasoconstriction to decrease fluid buildup and swelling.
Seek Medical Care for Severe Engorgement
Most cases of engorgement improve on their own or with supportive treatments like gua sha. But if you have symptoms like:
- Breast redness, heat, and throbbing pain at a certain point
- Fever and body aches
- Hard, tender lumps in the breast
- No improvement after 12-24 hours of treatment
If engorgement symptoms persist or worsen despite treatment, you may have a breast infection known as mastitis that requires medical diagnosis and care. Signs of mastitis include fever, body aches, and a hard, hot, red, swollen area on the breast. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is crucial for mastitis, so see a doctor right away if you suspect an infection. Inform your doctor if you are using gua sha or other alternative therapies for engorgement, but most are safe to continue alongside any prescribed medications.
Relieve Engorgement Pain with Gua Sha
Don't resign yourself to days of throbbing breast pain and disrupted bonding with your new baby. Though engorgement is common, it doesn't have to derail your breastfeeding plans thanks to quick-acting, safe remedies like gua sha. Next time engorgement strikes, grab a gua sha tool and gently glide it over tender breasts for sweet, drug-free relief. With further research, gua sha may prove to be the elusive holy grail that solves one of breastfeeding's most notorious challenges.