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Good to Know: Can Men Breastfeed?

Good to Know: Can Men Breastfeed?

There are a number of literary descriptions of men breastfeeding. For example in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, there is a short anecdote of an Englishman that lactates a baby while on board of a ship. Also the book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, written in 1896, describes several occurrences of men breastfeeding their children.

More recently, in 2002, the news reported on a 38-year-old man in Sri Lanka who nursed his two daughters after his wife died during the birth of her second child. “Unable to see her cry, I offered my breast,” the man told a Sri Lankan newspaper. “That’s when I discovered I could breastfeed.”

It is strange but true, all men can lactate. Like women, they possess the two essential components for breastfeeding: mammary glands, which produce milk, and pituitary glands, which secrete the hormone prolactin that, in large amounts, activates the mammary glands. Men typically produce small quantities of prolactin, not enough to breastfeed. But it seems that under extreme circumstances, the male body can produce more of the hormone.

“That Tolstoy quote suggests that the father just put the baby to the breast and he would produce milk; I think that’s pretty unlikely,” says Jack Newman, a Toronto-based doctor and breast-feeding expert. “It could be that you have this man with this pituitary tumor and he produces milk once the baby starts suckling.”

So a pituitary tumor can trigger spontaneous lactation, but also some sorts of neurological problems or medication can induce milk production. The use of Thorazine, for instance, a popular antipsychotic used in the mid-20th century. The medicine often caused an overproduction of prolactin, and therefore milk production could follow. According to Newman, lactation is also listed as a possible side effect of the heart medication digoxin.

So even though men only have nipples they certainly can lactate, under the “right” circumstances.

Source: Mental Floss, Scientific American
Photo: emerille/Flickr

Carian Thus

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