The Breast-Massaging Business Is Booming in China

Way back before 2007, even a licensed "lactogogue" such as Wang Xiaohong couldn't make a living just on massaging the clogged milk ducts of new nursing mothers. That, however, was before the boom in postpartum maternity and child care, a result of the fact that more Chinese mothers are having fewer children and thus devoting more time and attention to those children. "For the first four to five years, it was impossible to live on just breast massage," says Xiaohong. "I lived mostly on my other jobs, which were maternity related. Since 2007, I have been getting more bookings and now I only do this."

Breast masseuses like Xaiohong are indeed neck deep in money and the rich, creamy breast milk they massage out of new mothers. While it's not uncommon for new mothers to experience pain from clogged milk ducts or resulting infections such as mastitis, mothers-in-law and maternity maids usually carried out the boob-rubbing duties. China's coy flirtation with capitalism, however, has led to the relentless search for new and expanding markets, and specialized breast masseuses boasting accreditation across the spectrum of legitimacy have become very popular with young Chinese mothers who are rushing to have children during the auspicious Chinese Lunar Year of the Dragon ("yuesao," a traditional name for these masseuses, literally means "moon sisters-in-law").

Older methods for relieving new mothers from the pain of block ducts included running a wooden comb over or placing fermented dough on the breasts to increase energy and blood flow. An increasingly popular modern technique calle cui rui shi ("push milk teacher") utilizes acupressure points to increase milk flow. Specialists can make as much as $1,270 a month in this brave new market, double their average monthly earnings in 2007 when the practice was really starting to catch on.

With the sudden increase in demand for these massages, though, comes the ever-present danger that some charlatans are going to photocopy themselves a "lactogoue" certificate and try to make money with little more knowledge of proper breast massage than that possessed by a teenage boy frustrated with what might as well be a Rubik's cube bra hook. Doctors caution new mothers to exercise discernment in finding the best possible specialist to professionally rub their breasts, explaining that while a massage performed correctly can indeed relieve pain associated with stymied milk flow, incorrect massage can worsen the condition and even precipitate a mastitis infection. In other words, when it comes to breast massage, it really takes a professional set of magic fingers.

Specialized breast masseuses cash in on nursing moms [Shanghai Daily]