Is It Possible For Males To Lactate?

Lactation is the normal process that naturally happens in women who have recently given birth. It involves the process of secreting breast milk through the mammary glands (via Cleveland Clinic). During pregnancy, hormones trigger the mammary glands to prepare for the baby's arrival by producing nutrient-rich human milk. This biological and hormonal reaction happens to help mothers feed their newborn babies.

However, lactation can also be induced by mimicking the same hormones a pregnant body creates, shares Cleveland Clinic. This is called induced lactation. It can be achieved through the right medication, but it should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Non-pregnant people can induce lactation, and this includes men.

Countless tales have depicted men mysteriously breastfeeding babies, including in the novel "Anna Karenina" (per Scientific American). The 67 year old American actor, Dustin Hoffman, reported having a strong impulse to lend a breast to his first grandchild. In 2002, a Sri Lankan father reported lactating and nursing his two infant daughters after the passing of his wife.

With all of this in mind, is it possible for males to lactate without the help of medication?

What causes a male to lactate?

The answer is yes — anyone with breast tissue has the ability to lactate, and that includes men, shares GoodRx Health. While it's possible for males to lactate, it's very unusual, and it's often a sign of an underlying health condition.

According to the breastfeeding specialist Dr. Jack Newman, spontaneous lactation is likely due to the hormone prolactin (per Scientific American). This hormone is responsible for triggering milk production and helps with some breast tissue growth, explains Cleveland Clinic

While everyone has prolactin in their body, elevated amounts are typically only found in those who are pregnant or nursing. So if a person who's not pregnant or breastfeeding has high levels of prolactin, this is called hyperprolactinemia (per GoodRx Health).

Hyperprolactinemia can be caused by many factors. It could be a side effect from certain medications such as opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medications, shares GoodRx Health. Likewise, an underactive thyroid (known as hypothyroidism) may also be to blame for miraculous lactation.

In other cases, it could be a sign of a pituitary tumor. Dr. Newman tells Scientific American that "it would be the same reason—increased prolactin levels—the one case drug-induced, in the other due to a tumor or some other sort of neurological problem."

In extreme cases it can be a sign of breast cancer, points out GoodRx Health. That said, if you're experiencing lactation as a male, it's important not to ignore it and talk to your doctor.