New mother Zhang Xiaomeng gave birth three months ago. Shortly afterward, she also suffered from fluid buildup in her milk ducts, and after several masseuses could not help her, she came to a hospital in Beijing. The hospital cured her acute mastitis, but still recommended massage for the blocked ducts. Zheng Xinyi also sought advice from Xixi Hospital in Hangzhou over her clogged and sore breasts, but was told the hospital could not help.
Zhao Peng told our reporter that specialized maternal and child hospitals do pay attention to breastfeeding and offer advice and training services, but some obstetrics and gynecology departments at general hospitals will not usually provide these services. “Doctors tend to have the perception that patients need treatment only when they are ill,” Zhao said.
Wang Wenhua explained that in recent years, there have been more breastfeeding problems because research has failed to keep up. “It’s become a problem – neither the obstetrics and gynecology departments, nor pediatrics and surgical wards have paid attention to it, and it’s become a social issue,” Wang said. Because of the negligence of hospitals, private massage businesses are thriving, she said.
NewsChina recently visited several masseuse training companies in Beijing. Huahaoyueyuan, founded in 2014 in Beijing, identifies itself as one of China’s top postpartum care service providers. A staff member told our reporter that around 2008, breastfeeding masseuses began to gain popularity in Beijing. The employee claimed that “around 80 percent of breastfeeding mothers suffer problems, and the demand for masseuses is huge.”
Most masseuse training classes are divided into two parts: theory and practice. Trainees have to study traditional Chinese medicine and the structure of the breasts. The staff member at Huahaoyueyuan said on condition of anonymity that breast masseuses are not real professionals and currently there are no standardized training classes in the industry that stipulate what set of skills a masseuse should learn and how to respond to various situations.
Many training institutions do not have any threshold for education level and age when recruiting trainees. Our reporter found at several training institutions that most trainees are aged over 40 with no medical background or higher education. Trainees learn everything in just 10 days and then receive massage certificates issued by training institutions. In Beijing, some experienced masseuses work independently, but most self-employed masseuses have to distribute business cards to expectant mothers in hospitals once they finish their training.
Guo Chunming said that lactation through massage is considered a medical procedure, and it is highly likely to bring harm to new mothers if done by someone who is not a qualified doctor.
A veteran breastfeeding massage trainer at Huahaoyueyuan, who has been working there for 10 years, said more people are learning massage skills amid the growing market, and many institutions that provide massage services cooperate with hospitals which will directly recommend masseuses to new mothers.
“In major Chinese cities like Beijing, patients and young mothers trust doctors most,” she said, adding that training institutions have to pay doctors and hospitals for the introductions.
Zhao Peng does not suggest young mothers hire masseuses to help stimulate milk flow. He added that clogged ducts can be relieved with massage, but the problem could persist if the root cause fails to be solved. He did admit, however, that masseuses in some sense can solve problems. “The profession exists for a good reason,” he said, adding it is urgent to raise the bar of the profession and regulate the market.
There is currently no proper qualification for a breastfeeding masseuse, so anyone can claim to be one. China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security once offered courses and certificates, but all programs ended in March 2018 thanks to a government reshuffle, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency.
Guo Chunming told our reporter that the Chinese Association of Maternal and Child Health Care has been working to regulate the market. Starting in 2014, the association launched training programs on breastfeeding, mainly open to medical staff at hospitals. He said the association has invited newborn nursery specialists, maternity experts and breast doctors to establish internal standards and it is expected to be expanded to the entire industry.