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Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture is a therapeutic practice during which specific areas on the body are pierced with very fine needles.  Acupressure, also called shiatsu, is the application of pressure with thumbs or fingertips to points on the body for therapeutic effects.  Although not as common in the Western world, acupuncture and acupressure have been used to treat low milk production for over two thousand years and has recently been shown by research studies to be effective for this purpose.(1) In this Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach, insufficient milk is said to be the result of one of two disharmonies in qi, the flow of energy throughout the body: spleen qi deficiency (pi qi xu) or liver qi stagnation (gan qi stagnation). With spleen deficiency, the breasts are soft and milk production is inadequate, while with liver stagnation (or obstruction) the breasts are distended but not flowing.(2)  The author of a study that reviewed research on acupuncture for low milk production noted that it can be successful in many cases, though it did not help much when the mother had poor breast development.(3)

How might acupuncture or acupressure help? Researchers in Europe have noticed the positive effects of acupuncture on prolactin secretion, which in turn may stimulate an increase milk production.(4)  It may also help the release and flow of milk when the breasts have been engorged or inflamed.(5)

Acupuncture and acupressure are attractive options because they only involve external techniques to stimulate milk production or milk release.  This treatment option may be especially suitable for mothers with secondary causes of low milk production, and may also have potential for mothers with primary milk production problems and otherwise good breast development. Because TCM relies on a thorough screening of the patient to select the proper treatment locations, mothers interested in acupuncture or acupressure treatments for low milk production should seek out an experienced and qualified practitioner. While acupuncture must be performed by a practitioner, acupressure techniques may be learned for use at home as well.


(1) Jenner, C. and Filshie, J. Galactorrhoea following acupuncture. Acupunct Med 2002 Aug; 20(2-3):107-8.

Nedkova, V. and Tanchev, S. [The possibilities for stimulating lactation]. Akush Ginekol (Sofiia) 1995 ;34(2):17-8.

Clavey, S. The use of acupuncture for the treatment of insufficient lactation. Am J Acupuncture 1996; 24(1):35-45

(2) Li, K. A pilot study to evaluate the effect of acupuncture on increasing milk supply of lactating mothers.  Master’s thesis: Victoria University, 2003. http://wallaby.vu.edu.au/adt-VVUT/public/adt-VVUT20031203.093949/ Accessed Jul 31, 2005.
(3) Clavey, S. The use of acupuncture for the treatment of insufficient lactation. Am J Acupuncture 1996; 24(1):35-45

(4) Jenner, C. and Filshie, J. Galactorrhea following acupuncture. Acupunct Med 2002 Aug;20(2-3):107-8.

Sheng, P. and Xie, Q. Relationship between effect of acupuncture on prolactin secretion and central catecholamine and R-aminobutyric acid. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu 1989; 14(4):446-51.

(5) Kvist, L., Louise Hall-Lord, M., Rydhstroem, H., et al. A randomised-controlled trial in Sweden of acupuncture and care interventions for the relief of inflammatory symptoms of the breast during lactation. Midwifery 2006 Oct 17; [Epub ahead of print].

Nedkova, V. and Tanchev, S. The possibilities for stimulating lactation. Akush Ginekol (Sofiia) 1995; 34(2):17-8.

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