From time to time there appear reports in the press about men breastfeeding. Do these reports correspond with reality? To understand this issue, let’s start with a woman.
The Production of Milk
Milk production in a nursing mother is a complex process, caused by the work of at least two major hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. Preparation for breastfeeding for a woman lasts almost no less than nine months. That is, during the entire pregnancy. At this time, prolactin stimulates the growth of the mammary glands but milk does not appear during pregnancy since the other two hormones – estrogen and progesterone – inhibit this process. After delivery, the level of these hormones changes and prolactin appears.
Now its task is to provide a sufficient amount of milk for the child. Oxytocin increases the contractions of the uterus during labor, and after it – promotes the flow of milk into the mammary glands. Breastfeeding increases the synthesis of prolactin and oxytocin in the body of a woman. It turns out to be a peculiar cycle: breastfeeding – increase in the secretion of hormones – increase in the amount of milk. The formation of oxytocin can be stimulated even by the child’s crying. That strong are the links between the nervous and endocrine systems in the body of the nursing mother.
Are Men and Women so Different?
The most interesting thing is that it turns out that prolactin and oxytocin are not exclusively female hormones. They are present in the male body as well. These hormones are produced not by the sex glands but by the pituitary gland – the endocrine gland located in the brain.
The pituitary gland regulates the work of all the other glands of internal secretion in the body. Two more “female” hormones of the pituitary are lutropin and follitropin. The first one stimulates the maturation of eggs. The second one is responsible for the synthesis of real female sex hormones (estrogens) in the ovaries.
But why do men have so strange and not suitable for their body hormones? For a long time, this question remained unanswered.
It turned out that the thing is not in the hormones but in their target organs – the ovaries or testes. The hormones affect these organs and this determines the apparent effect. The influence of these hormones is more evident in the female body, which may have prompted someone to think that a man can also breastfeed because the hormones are the same.
However, nothing in our body exists for no reason. If there is a hormone, then it is needed for something. “Female” hormone prolactin in the male body is not related to milk. It affects the purely masculine processes. It regulates sexual function, improves metabolic processes in the testes and enhances the production of lutropin and follitropin.
The decrease in the amount of prolactin in the male body reduces the mobility of sperm. The increase leads to even more serious consequences – men become impotent, despite the fact that the level of male sex hormones remains normal.
The hormone oxytocin causes a reduction in the spermatic ducts during ejaculation. Lutropin regulates the synthesis of testosterone in the testicles. And foliotropin, together with testosterone, accelerates the maturation of sperm.
Can Men Breastfeed?
Sometimes men’s mammary glands increase and even produce a liquid that looks like milk. The reasons for these processes have nothing to do with the desire of a man to breastfeed. These are the consequences of serious diseases such as testicular abnormality, adrenal gland tumors or liver pathology. Taking certain medications can also change the physiology of the male body in such a strange way.
The mentioned above diseases disturb the balance of male and female hormones in the male body. In some cases, for example, diseases of the testicles, the synthesis of androgens decreases and the female hormones begin to manifest themselves. In other cases – such as liver damage – estrogens are not destroyed, but accumulate in the body and begin to “turn” the male characteristics into female ones. As a rule, changes concern not only the mammary glands: testicles atrophy, fat begins to accumulate where it is usually observed in women, on the hips and chest; body hair disappears, etc. As a result, a man starts looking more feminine. After the treatment of the major disease, these symptoms tend to disappear.
There is probably only one conclusion from all of the above – the presence of “female” hormones in the body of a man does not mean that he is able to perform the functions that nature originally endowed a woman. And, in general, is it necessary for a real man to try on such a woman’s occupation as breastfeeding?
Some researchers think that men breastfeeding is possible. Dr. George Gould and Dr. Walter Pyle in their book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1896) give several examples of men breastfeeding their children. The described cases include the story of a sailor who applied the baby to his breast to calm the child down. As a result, milk began to be produced. Or the story of a South American peasant who breastfed his baby when his wife got sick. The authors also told the story of a Chippewa man who started putting the baby to the breast when his wife died. As a result, he was able to breastfeed the child.
And in our time, similar examples can be found as well. In 2002, a man from Sri Lanka lost his wife and stayed alone with his daughter. She refused to eat formula, and the man decided to try to breastfeed her himself. “I could no longer see her crying and offered her my own breasts,” told the man to a local newspaper. “So I found out that I could breastfeed.”
The story of this man is not unique.
Men Breastfeeding: How Does It Work?
Theoretically, all men can breastfeed because they have two necessary conditions for lactation – the mammary glands and the pituitary gland. The mammary glands that produce milk are present in all mammals irrespective of sex and are their defining characteristic. In some species, for example, in mice, the mammary glands of males are so underdeveloped that they can’t function. However, all people regardless of sex have fully formed mammary glands, milk ducts, and nipples.
Of course, in order for a person to be able to breastfeed, these glands must be active. In women, this process usually occurs during pregnancy when the pituitary gland in the brain begins to produce a large amount of the hormone prolactin which prepares the breast for the production of milk.
A small amount of prolactin is allocated in the bodies of all men during life. For example, prolactin is released after orgasm, and it is possible that it is associated with a sense of satisfaction and relaxation after sex. Usually, the amount of prolactin in men is too small to allow them to breastfeed.
Nevertheless, under certain psychological circumstances, the brain can make the body begin to produce this hormone. This happens, for example, with the mothers of adopted infants who suddenly discover that they can breastfeed. And as the cases described by Dr. Gould and Dr. Pyle demonstrate, in similar circumstances this can also happen to men.
Scientists’ View on Men Breastfeeding
Scientists have experimentally found out that if a man takes hormones, then the breast milk can be produced in his body. This means that a man can become a full participant in the process of breastfeeding infants.
According to some scientists, all a man needs to become a nursing dad is taking pills containing the hormones oxytocin and prolactin. They are responsible for lactation – the formation of milk in the mammary glands. The only negative point is that a man will need to take hormones for a few months.
Scientists say that making a man a nursing dad is easy. Men’s and women’s breasts may not look similar, but they are arranged in the same way inside: mammary glands, ducts, nipples.
Men can share with women all the joys and difficulties of motherhood. Moreover, according to the research of the professor of the British Medical University, Patrick Whitman, there is nothing difficult in this. The structure of the male and female breasts is almost identical. Men, like women, have mammary glands, ducts, and nipples. With a certain hormonal stimulation, men can develop lactation and the mechanism of feeding will not change. The child will be able to suck milk from his father’s breast in exactly the same way as with his mother.
Some scientists even assert that male milk is more useful than female milk. It can contain much more vitamins and minerals than the milk of the exhausted after pregnancy and birth mother.