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What Is Male Lactation?

By Marco Sumayao
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Male lactation refers to the phenomenon of milk production in men; the volume of milk, however, is considerably low compared to that of a lactating female. It is commonly caused by hormonal treatments — usually estrogen — given to prostate cancer patients, and in some cases, it can be a side effect of several atypical antipsychotic medications. Several lifestyle factors have also been attributed to male lactation, particularly in stress levels and diet. In most cases, this condition, which was first reported in the mid 1800s, is considered to pose no risks to an individual's health.

Sex Reassignment Surgery

Males who have gone through a sex reassignment surgery (SRS) might lactate as a side effect of the hormones they take as part of the procedure. Feminizing hormone therapy helps transwomen (males who identify as females) to look more womanly.

Anti-androgens block out male hormones such as testosterone. You will experience less muscle mass, not as many erections, and less hair on your face and body because of this treatment. 

To achieve a more feminine look, you will receive progesterone and estrogen treatments. You will have larger breasts and extra fat throughout your body such as your hips and buttocks. Your skin will become much softer and you may experience mood swings. 

Because of this surge in feminine hormone in your body, prolactin will become more evident and cause males to lactate post-sex reassignment surgery. 

Prolactin is the hormone that leads to lactation in women and men. Since trans women have less testosterone in their body that reduces prolactin and lactation, receiving feminine hormones and anti-androgens will reverse this usual effect and cause lactation.  

Demanding Activities and Severe Starvation

Male lactation can also be caused by extreme stress due to demanding physical activities and severe starvation. At the end of World War II, male survivors of the liberated Nazi concentration camps were known to produce milk. Some prisoners of war returning from the Vietnam and Korean wars also experienced male lactation.

Outside of the war example, if you work in a factory setting, construction, or other profession requiring high-demand physical activities, it can cause lactation. 

Working in high-demand environments may mean that you do not take as many breaks so you can meet designated deadlines and quotas. This means that you are going long periods without eating and possibly not eating as healthy of a diet. 

Starving for long periods can mean that your hormones spike higher than normal and induce prolactin to cause male lactation. 

Self-Induced Nipple Stimulation

According to recent studies, it is possible to induce lactation in males through constant stimulation of the nipples over a certain period. Whether the male stimulates his nipples or perhaps his baby suckles on them trying to retrieve breast milk, it is possible to induce male lactation over months with repeat nipple stimulation.

A 38-year-old Sri Lankan man breastfed his twin infant daughters after his wife passed away from childbirth complications in 2002. One of his daughters did not like the formula he was giving him. Hence, he offered his breasts to his daughters so that they could be nutritionally fed during their infancy. 

Experts found that because of the nipple stimulation and the man’s naturally high and hyperactive prolactin levels, he was able to breastfeed his infant daughters. Elevated estradiol can help with male bone health while increasing lactation likelihood. Estradiol by itself regulates sperm production, libido, and erectile functions. 

Galactagogues

Some experts believe that male lactation can be triggered by adequate consumption of galactogogues or lactogogues, agents that promote lactation usually found in products that boost milk production in nursing mothers. These substances can be synthetic, endogenous, or plant-derived.

Natural Galactogogues

Different herbs and foods are considered natural galactagogues. If men consume any high amounts of these foods or herbs listed below, they may experience male lactation as it induces milk-making hormones in their bodies.

Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chickpeas
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Alfalfa sprouts

Fruits

  • Red raspberry
  • Papaya
  • Grapefruit
  • Pumpkin
  • Banana flower

Seeds and Grains

  • Quinoa seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Millet

Herbs

  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger
  • Cumin
  • Garlic
  • Sage
  • Hibiscus
  • Caraway

Synthetic Galactagogues

The most commonly-cited sources are herbal, although pharmaceutical medications are considered more effective and are usually available by prescription. Males that choose to take synthetic galactagogues, or dopamine antagonists could lactate. 

One type of synthetic galactagogue is domperidone

While the drug increases lactation, it can reduce nausea and vomiting for males or females. A male taking domperidone to reduce nausea may experience lactation dependent upon the dosage. If the patient takes more than prescribed, it can expedite lactation. A name-brand version of domperidone is Motilium. 

Another type of synthetic galactagogue is metoclopramide. 

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy patients take this medication to reduce anxiousness. Diabetes patients may take metoclopramide gastroparesis. This condition means that there is slow stomach emptying during digestion. One of the side effects of taking metoclopramide regularly as a male is experiencing lactation. 

Metformin is a tertiary type of galactagogue that treats patients with Type 2 diabetes. 

Men taking metformin may experience lactation or even changes in their sperm that can trigger birth defects in their newborn sons. Studies have shown that in men taking metformin a few months before conceiving with their significant other can cause genital defects in their newborn son. 

Various Medical Conditions

Several medical conditions can produce symptoms similar to male lactation, although their processes are unrelated to normal milk production. Galactorrhea, a milky form of nipple discharge, is often caused by excess levels of prolactin, a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. In men, it is associated with hypogonadism, or testosterone deficiency, and occurs with gynecomastia, an enlargement of the breasts in males. A lesion in the pituitary gland might also be the cause of male lactation.

Treatment methods for galactorrhea vary, depending on the cause. If the condition is due to an underactive thyroid gland, levothyroxine can be taken to counter insufficient hormone production. A tumor in the pituitary gland can either be shrunk or excised through surgery.

Lactation in Newborn Babies

Whether your baby is a boy or a girl, newborns may lactate because of the surging hormones from their mothers. 

Oxytocin is triggered when labor starts to help the mother successfully deliver her newborn. The high oxytocin levels transfer to the newborn and cause neonatal milk, otherwise known as witch’s milk, to secrete from the baby boy or girl’s breasts. 

Neonatal milk is a natural occurrence in male babies. No treatment is required to cure the condition. It will go away on its own as the baby grows through its months of infancy. 

Final Thoughts

Male lactation is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. Whether you consume natural galactagogues, take synthetic ones to help a health condition, or have one of the affiliated medical conditions that cause the condition, do not feel self-conscious about it. 

If your male baby develops neonatal milk, do not be alarmed as this is a normal occurrence after birth.

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Discussion Comments
By browncoat — On Dec 16, 2013

@pleonasm - I actually think it's really interesting that people can actually cause induced male lactation. It might seem weird in general, but that could actually be really helpful, if they could produce as much as the average female.

There are plenty of women who feel guilty about not being able to produce breast milk for their infants because it just doesn't work out for whatever reason. Or maybe they work and their male partner doesn't, or he works from home.

Even I think this sounds very strange, but I can't see a logical reason why men shouldn't just be able to breastfeed a child if they are physically capable of it. There might be a biological reason why they shouldn't, and I am certainly not an expert, but I think socially there shouldn't be any stigma against it.

By pleonasm — On Dec 15, 2013

@Iluviaporos - It annoys me that the idea of lactating men is even considered to be shameful. Strange, yes, but the only reason it would be considered shameful is if breastfeeding in general is shameful and that just shows the general bad attitude towards women.

It's just a matter of hormones getting mixed up and as it says in the article, it doesn't cause any harm on its own (although it can be a symptom of something else that is harmful).

By lluviaporos — On Dec 15, 2013

This is the kind of thing that might seem shaming, but if it happens spontaneously, it's probably a symptom of something, so you really need to get it checked out.

People make jokes about male pregnancy and lactation, but in reality they do have all the glands and things that are needed to produce milk. It's not all that strange for it to happen when something goes wrong.

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