A lot of questioning and uncertainty tends to come along with breastfeeding, with one particular concern topping the list: Is my baby getting enough milk? In a survey we conducted of over 500 moms, 57% were concerned their babies weren’t getting enough milk, and 29% reported suffering from low milk supply. Research shows that parents who are worried about their babies not getting enough to eat might decide to supplement with formula. In fact, supplementing is usually only necessary in rare cases, and it’s proven that exclusive breastfeeding is the gold standard when it comes to positively affecting the health of babies and their mothers. Abundant research shows that exclusive breastfeeding helps babies’ health in childhood and into adulthood.
If you’re currently facing a breastfeeding challenge, chances are someone has recommended the benefits of moist heat to help solve your problem. And if you’re currently breastfeeding, chances are you ignored that advice because who has the time or ability to go shirtless for hours every day holding a dripping wet washcloth in place? Or who has the time to take 5+ showers/baths a day when you’ve got a tiny human to feed and a life to live?
What is Moist Heat?
Moist heat is the application of warm water to your skin to reduce inflammation and pain, and stimulate circulation and healing. Warm water can be applied directly (bath or shower), through steam (steam room, steamy bathroom), or warm moistened towels/pads (Rachel’s Remedy Breast Relief Packs are here).
Moist heat is recommended for a huge range of problems (literally head to toe), and it’s the gold-standard for relieving breastfeeding's most common issues that can come up at any point during your breastfeeding journey. These problems include engorgement, mastitis, clogged ducts, milk blebs, low milk supply, slow let-down, as well as general discomfort and soreness.
Why does it Work?
The science behind it is actually pretty simple. Heat in general, moist or dry, helps a lot of different types of aches and pains, but moist heat promotes healing 4 times faster than dry heat because of its ability to penetrate the skin which increases and improves circulation to the affected area, and promotes and speeds up healing, healthy cell growth, and drainage. Moist heat likewise reduces pain in 1/4 the time of applying a regular heating pad. Increased circulation is what encourages healing as well as stimulation for faster let-down and increased milk flow.
Does Every Breastfeeding Mom Need Moist Heat Therapy?
Probably. Some moms have more problems breastfeeding than others. For example, I have a friend who gets mastitis at least once when she starts breastfeeding a new baby (she has 4). Most women deal with painful engorgement when their milk starts coming in after childbirth, and many times after - for various reasons including irregular feeding or pumping schedules. This can cause milk to sit in a duct for too long, and can result in clogged milk ducts or mastitis. Moist heat can actually prevent mastitis by relieving clogged ducts, milk blebs and engorgement, and preventing the stasis of milk. Also, slow letdown and/or poor milk flow are frustrations faced by many breastfeeding moms. Moist heat is what helps problems like these and chances are, most breastfeeding moms are going to face at least one of those problems while breastfeeding.
Are there Alternatives to Moist Heat?
No. Nothing is as effective as moist heat. Dry heat is not nearly as fast or effective as moist heat.
Frequent nursing is the best way to avoid a lot of these common problems. Self-massage can often help, but is recommended in conjunction with moist heat therapy for the most effective treatment. For example, massage and moist heat together brings faster relief for clogged ducts. The same goes for faster letdown and increased milk flow.
What Are my Moist Heat Options?
Until now, the most common advice has been to hold a warm wet towel against your breast(s) or take warm baths throughout the day until the problem you’re dealing with clears up. I’ve been there, done that - and that’s why our FDA-cleared Rachel’s Remedy Breastfeeding Relief Packs exist. A dripping wet towel prevents you from doing...anything. You literally have to sit there with no clothes or bra on, holding a dripping wet cloth in place. It gets cold every 15 seconds and constantly needs reheating. Or take warm baths. Lots of them. Show me a breastfeeding mom that has time for that!
I recommend that every breastfeeding mom or mom-to-be keep our Relief Packs on hand from the moment you start breastfeeding so that you’ll have them accessible when issues crop up.
Concerns over milk supply are certainly valid and should always be taken seriously. But don’t become discouraged and give up on breastfeeding! Low milk supply is common and with appropriate measures you will be able to increase your supply. Your body is miraculous in that it adjusts breastmilk supply according to the needs of your baby, but several factors ultimately impact how much milk your baby gets from you. A few things that could affect milk supply are:
Adjusting to postpartum body
Slow milk let-down
Clogged ducts and mastitis
How Moist Heat Helps Increase Breastmilk Supply
When you are trying to increase milk supply you should breastfeed or pump often. You should aim to breastfeed or pump 8-10 times per day with a new baby, and be sure to completely empty the breast each time. Milk left in the breast is a signal telling your body to decrease milk production. Moist heat can save the day.
When it comes to resolving breastfeeding pain and discomfort, moist heat is a nursing mom’s best friend! It’s safe, natural, and most importantly -- it’s effective. If you’ve suffered from any of the problems above, chances are your OBGYN, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), mom, aunt, or friend, recommended you use moist heat to help resolve your problem, as moist heat is the most widely recommended remedy to help treat breastfeeding issues. Moist heat is a miracle for breastfeeding moms as far as we are concerned, and we have the research to back it up.
Moist heat improves blood circulation because heat prompts blood to rise to the surface of the skin. Stronger circulation means more oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to the targeted area, and heat also helps relax veins and arteries to reduce or prevent constriction. Moist heat is especially effective because the moisture allows heat to penetrate the skin on a deeper level and 4 times more quickly than dry heat alone. If you’ve ever dealt with any breastfeeding discomforts, you know you want relief delivered as quickly and easily as possible!
When it comes to breastfeeding, moist heat does more than improve circulation. Research shows that moist heat enhances the body’s natural let-down reflex by not just increasing circulation, but it also stimulates oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the let-down reflex. This means your body will respond to your baby sucking more quickly, and the milk will flow more freely. So if delayed let-down is a problem for you, moist heat application right before breastfeeding can help.
Many of the other common breastfeeding issues listed above can impact milk supply, and moist heat helps resolve those as well. Studies focusing on engorgement have found that applying moist heat to engorged breasts before breastfeeding helps increase circulation and soften the breast, allowing babies to latch more easily and empty the breast more thoroughly. Similar studies show how moist heat application helps prevent and resolve clogged ducts, as well as prevent and relieve mastitis by helping milk ducts relax, allowing clogs to clear. Clogs are unlikely to appear if moist heat is applied regularly, so if you’re prone to mastitis or clogs, moist heat application should be part of your daily routine for as long as you are breastfeeding.
As for painful milk blisters - while they can take weeks to go away on their own, using moist heat softens the blisters, helping them to clear much more quickly. Also, moist heat soothes the pain caused by milk blisters, helping moms continue to breastfeed even when a blister is present.
For some moms, low milk supply is their only issue - they don’t suffer from clogged ducts, engorgement, blisters, or slow let-down. Moist heat helps in these cases too! Studies have shown that there is a significantly greater amount of milk produced from breasts that have had moist heat application prior to breastfeeding or pumping versus breasts that have not. The reason for this is that moist heat increases circulation and improves vascular tone (meaning it allows the milk ducts to open rather than constrict). Additionally, because moist heat stimulates oxytocin, milk is able to flow more easily. Moms concerned with low milk supply will certainly benefit from moist heat.
How to Use Moist Heat for Breastfeeding
Moist heat is incredibly helpful for breastfeeding women, but until now there just hasn’t been an easy solution. Doctors, IBCLCs, midwives, and doulas widely recommend moist heat to help resolve breastfeeding issues, and typically suggest using warm, wet washcloths or taking baths and showers. These solutions are difficult - if not impossible - for a busy, nursing mom to sustain. Warm, wet washcloths get clothing wet, they cool down within a few minutes, and they require holding a hand to the breast (most moms wish they had extra hands - one arm down is tough to deal with!). Taking several warm baths and showers per day is not something any mom can rely on - especially a breastfeeding/pumping mom.
Fortunately, with Rachel’s Remedy Breast Relief Packs, there is a simple, natural and effective way for moms to improve their milk supply and resolve breastfeeding discomforts so that they no longer have to worry whether their baby is getting enough milk, and they do not have to resort to supplementation if they prefer to exclusively breastfeed. Rachel’s Remedy Breast Relief Packs are the only FDA-cleared moist heat/cooling relief pack that fit right into any bra, stay warm for 20-minutes or longer, and best of all - they are hands-free and keep clothing dry so that busy moms can treat their conditions and improve their milk supply without having to stop their lives.
As with any breastfeeding concern, be sure to consult your doctor or IBCLC first, especially if you are experiencing a fever or you are concerned about your baby's health.
Neifert, M., Seacat, J. Medical Management of Successful Breast-Feeding. Prevention in Primary Care, Pediatric Clinics of North America. 33(4) 1986, August. 743-63.
Resmy V, Nalini S.J., Sumathi, G. Effect of Lukewarm Water Compress On Prevention of
Nipple Pain and Breast Engorgement Among Primiparous At A Selected Hospital In Chennai.
Journal of Science. 2014. 4(10). 620-624.
Journal of Clinical Medicine Research: Moist heat or Dry Heat for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness 2013 Dec; 5(6): 416-425 J. Petrofsky, L. Berk, G. Bains, et. al.
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Still have milk in my breast and my son is 2yrs old
Thank you so much for writing this very informative article! I hope you don’t mind that I link to your article in breast pumping in the NICU advice! Thank you again!
There are many foods to increase breast milk supply which include the following: oatmeal, carrots, dates, fennel, fenugreek
My baby had to be in the NICU for 3 days when she was born & I asked them to please feed her with a sirenge but they fed her with a bottle which has caused her to be nipple confused & frustrated with me when I try to breastfeed. My flow is so slow now & it’s very upsetting because this is my first baby & I wanted to have that bonding moment.