I've never heard that it was necessary for a man to eat the afterbirth to enable him to lactate...

All it takes, or so I have always been told, is an actual desire to feed a baby, and constant practice
Lactation is very much a supply and demand operation. In a mother, the process begins with certain birth related  hormones, certainly, but if no child suckles, milk production ceases quite quickly. When the infant drinks more, the milk ducts produce more, and visa versa.

All a father (or other interested man) needs to produce milk is the want, and the opportunity. If the baby is getting enough food to avoid dying for the week or so it takes for lactation to begin, he can feed it entirely satisfactorily from there on, and experience all the fun of breast feeding :)

 

Men actually can lactate, but not through eating afterbirth. There are a couple of ways, none involving technicolor yawns, in which this can happen. The first is if a man takes female hormones. This is an observed and repeatable phenomenon.

The second way was observed among men who had been in POW camps and German concentration camps after WWII. Because they had been starved, their bodies had stopped unnecessary bodily functions, like produce hormones. Because they were no longer producing testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, etc. their livers stopped producing enzymes to break down these hormones. What would happen next is that when they started eating again, they would begin to produce hormones. Lots of them. But their livers still didn't have enzymes to break hormones down and therefore lactating hormones would build up in the body and some of these men would begin to lactate. The third way that men can lactate has already been mentioned by Trina, so I won't repeat it.

It's also worth mentioning that in some species of fruit bats, the males share breast feeding duties. If you're interested in reading more about this, I believe either New Scientist (www.newscientist.com) or Scientific American (www.sciam.com) had a detailed article about this a couple of years back.

Male lactation is the production of breast milk by those of the male gender. This is a rare and unusual event, but it has been observed in humans in several cases.

Evidence of Non-Human Male Lactation
Male Lactation, an article by Dr. Patty Stuart Macadam of the University of Toronto in the Fall 1996 issue of Compleat Mother, states that the feature is somewhat common in Dayak fruit bats, a rare species. In 1992, 18 such bats were discovered in Malaysia, ten of which were male. All ten male bats were capable of lactation.

History of Male Lactation in Humans
Male lactation was first noted by the German explorer Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt in 1858. In his diaries of that year, he wrote of a 32 year old man in northern Burma who breastfed his child for five months in the absence of a mother or wet nurse. Also in 1858, David Livingstone published reports of the same phenomenon in the Scottish highlands. Recently, in 1982, a 55 year old man in Baltimore, Maryland was noted for being the wet nurse of the children of his mistress. In 2002, an article with photographic evidence appeared in a Zaire newspaper, showing a local man providing breastmilk for his infant son.

There are many anecdotal cases of male lactation beyond these, including several articles in modern health magazines and current health books by men claiming to have mastered the technique.

Do Males Produce Normal Milk?
The milk excreted by males is virtually identical to milk produced by females, with only a few relatively unimportant enzymes missing (Macadam, Compleat Mother, 1986); aside from these missing enzymes, male lactation in all measured species is identical to female lactation.

Inducing Male Lactation
According to recent studies (Macadam in Compleat Mother), a significant part of lactation is psychological; a will to breastfeed is a major part in being able to provide milk for an infant. Doctors thus recommend the following program to encourage lactation in males, although male lactation in humans is not recommended unless necessary for the care of an infant.

1. Believe in lactation. Males should try to imagine their nipples producing milk. Often, a rhythm of doing this works, modeled after the feeding times of a normal wet nurse.
2. Arouse the nipples regularly. At the same time as imagining lactation, a male should exercise and arouse his nipples. A tugging should occur at regular intervals (every two to three seconds) for a period of fifteen to twenty minutes. Soreness is likely, but it is necessary.
3. Ingest a healty, balanced diet with a lot of protein. The male body will basically be releasing protein, so consuming a strong diet with protein supplementation will help with the biochemical needs of lactation.

Benefits of Male Lactation
The advantages of male lactation are many. For starters, male lactation would promote a type of emotional bonding between father and child that is now available only to the mother and child. In addition, it would provide many of the benefits that a child often misses in the absence of breastfeeding, such as a stronger immune system and decreased disease susceptibility. In the first world, most mothers choose not to breastfeed, either for career purposes, illnesses, failure to breastfeed, or lack of interest; male lactation could potentially fill this role.

The Psychological Barrier
It is quite likely that many males (and probably many females) reading this article are repulsed by the concept of male lactation. It should be mentioned that the primary barrier to this effect is psychological; it is not practiced because so many find it inherently revolting. Since the mother naturally carries the child and her breasts (usually) naturally fill with milk during the childbearing process, it seems natural that it is the mother, NOT the father, that should do the nursing. This statement, however, is psychological and sociological in nature, though, and is not based on the true physical nature of the situation.

Male lactation is physically possible, and it should be considered especially in situations where parents wish to provide breast milk for the child, but the mother is unable to provide the milk.

There is a certain order in the universe. Patterns repeat the way they always have, except when they don’t. Every rule has its exception. Male lactation is an exception to the "got milk" rule in humans.

PITUITARY ADENOMA:
One known medical condition that can cause lactation in a man or a non parous woman is a prolactin secreting pituitary tumor called a pituitary adenoma or prolactinoma. These tumors can establish the hormonal milieu that leads to the body making milk, because the pituitary gland is the seat of the hormonal control of lactation. Pituitary adenomas are usually not cancerous. It is possible that a man, lactating because of a pituatary tumor, could live a normal lifespan.

Problems other than cancer can exist because of pituitary adenomas. In addition to the secretion of milk there is the possibility of brain compression from a growing tumor. The severity of this problem can vary. If large enough, pituitary adenomas can lead to blindness due to the proximity of the optic nerve to the pituitary gland and even to death if the brain compression is severe enough. On the other hand, these tumors sometimes remain stable at a size that causes lactation but not significant other problems.

Sparse anecdotal reports of men who lactated and who fed infants do exist . Scientific study of the phenomenon does not. One has to wonder if at least some of the anecdotal cases reported in the literature of human males nursing children were not cases of mild to moderate but untreated pituitary adenomas. Published reports are usually of the sensationalizing nature and do not attempt to look at the science behind this rare finding or worse, make claims or recommendations that sound scientific based on ???, they never say.

MEDICATION and HERBS:
Lactation may also be induced by medications or herbs. Phenothiazines, Metaclopromide, Domperidone, estrogen (or phytoestrogens), prolactin, fenugreek, and blessed thistle, all can contribute to initiating and then maintaining lactation in a male (or in a female who has not recently given birth for that matter).

INDUCED LACTATION and RELACTATION:
The phenomena of induced lactation in women who have not recently (or in some cases ever) given birth or relactation in a woman who recently gave birth but whose mammary glandular tissue has involuted to a non or minimally lactating state is well known and better studied. It can be intentionally accelerated through the use of exogenous hormones and/or other medications and/or herbs (typically those mentioned above with the exception of the Phenothiazines) and/or regular, effective stimulation of the areolar/nipple complex. Even the woman who has never been pregnant possesses the basic equipment needed. As milk begins to be produced the regular removal of that milk stimulates more production.

MILK COMPOSITION:
The milk of lactating males has not been studied in terms of its compositional adequacy for raising a child, or at least such studies are not documented in peer reviewed medical journals. It is probably accurate to assume it is similar in composition to the milk of a female who has induced lactation. That has been studied and the medical literature supports it is similar in composition to the milk of a post partum woman.

The interesting and challenging thing about studying the composition of breastmilk however is that breastmilk is not a static fluid. It is constantly changing. This is one of the multitudes of reasons it is superior to any substitute for infant nutrition.

Some of the known ways breastmilk varies are:

  • Time of day (most hormones and the rate of synthesis vary on a daily circadian rhythm)
  • Time within a given feeding or expression (foremilk is typically higher in carbohydrates and hind milk is typically higher in fat)
  • Rate of synthesis (the emptier the breast the faster the synthesis of more milk but the lactating breast is never truly empty of milk as synthesis is constant on at least a base level)
  • Time since birth (colostrum, the first milk is higher in protein and has less fat, and little to no lactose)
  • Gestational age of the infant at birth (milk of a mother who has given birth prematurely is higher in protein for the first month or so)
  • Degree of involution (weaning milk has higher sodium)
  • Immune factors present (if the mother is exposed to certain illnesses her milk will have more antibodies specific to that illness)
  • Dietary factors (the type of fat in the mother’s diet influences the type of fat in her milk.
  • Vitamin content can vary according to mother’s diet
  • Color, smell and flavor of breastmilk can vary with the mother’s diet. Orange milk after the ingestion of large amounts of Beta-carotene, smoke smelling milk after mother smokes, maple syrup smelling milk when mother takes fenugreek, and babies showing a preference for milk after mothers ingested garlic have all been documented.

The components of breastmilk are currently known at about 300 separate ingredients. It seems new components are always being discovered.

The constant variation in the composition of breastmilk and the fact that we do not have a definitive list of ALL components of breastmilk make proving or disproving the normality of male milk difficult, if not impossible. Having said that, personally I would expect it to be fairly close to female milk in a similar circumstance. There is no logical reason to expect otherwise, but we do not KNOW this as a research based fact.

BREAST DEVELOPMENT male and female:
Embryonic development of the male and female breast is identical. Newborns - both male and female are well known to sometimes secrete a milk commonly called “witches milk” in the first week of life due to the influence of maternal hormones still in circulation in their body. If that milk is expressed production continues so the treatment of the little tykes is to leave them alone. Normal involution of the mammary glandular tissue follows.

The nascent breast remains dormant until it falls under the influence of the hormones of puberty. Girls develop breasts as a normal course of events. Before pregnancy the female breast has some glandular tissue along with fat. Each menstrual cycle furthers glandular development. Pregnancy nearly completes glandular development. The hormonal changes following the birth of the placenta initiate lactation, sometime a bit more glandular developement follows.

The rudimentary breasts of adolescent boys do not normally develop much fat or glandular tissue. When they do, the condition is known as gynecomastia. In adolescence this can be seen most often in overweight boys as excessive fat increases estrogen levels which in turn encourages the development of breasts. For some boys this can be a severe problem and is sometimes treated surgically. For others it is self resolving as adolescent hormones calm or androgen levels overwhelm estrogen levels. Weight loss or stabilization (as height catches up with girth) can also help to reduce gynecomastia.

MAKING MILK all sorts of ways:
In a post partum woman the control of milk production gradually switches from endocrine to autocrine. This means that although hormones return to the non pregnant non postpartum level, if milk removal is regular and effective production can theoretically continue indefinitely. This is how some wet nurses were able to continue producing milk for decades past the birth of their last biological child. It is conceivable that a male, once lactation has ensued could also continue to lactate regardless of the original cause if regular milk removal continued.

Male to female transsexuals or otherwise transgendered individuals may develop breasts (including glandular tissue) with hormonal treatment. There is no reason to think that their breasts could not lactate with adequate stimulation. Certainly it is understandable that such an individual might want to know if her breasts function in terms of lactation and anecdotal reports exist of successful induced lactation just for this purpose. Such an individual may want to nourish their child at the breast as well.

HOWEVER, even in a biologically born female who is inducing lactation the results are not consistent. She has had the benefit of monthly glandular growth since her menarche. It doesn’t always work and if milk is produced it is not always an adequate volume to completely nourish an infant. However, any breastmilk is better than no breastmilk.

SO? just pondering …:
Should a male try to lactate? Suppose he wants to lactate in order to feed a baby? Suppose the mother does not? Is any breastmilk better than no breastmilk in this case? Suppose the mother is lactating adequately. Is the man’s attempt to also feed the baby likely to interfere with the mother’s production (if the baby is the means of stimulating the breast the answer is yes). Could his energies be better placed in assisting the more likely to succeed scenario of the mother lactating? Is this a case that even involves a baby? Does it matter or is this just weird science?


SOURCES
Basic textbooks:
At the Breast by Blum
Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical profession by Lawrence
Breastfeeding and Human Lactation by Riordan and Auerbach
Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives by Stuart-Macadam and Dettwyler
Breastfeeding Matters by Minchin
Breastfeeding the Newborn: Clinical Strategies for Nurses by Biancuzzo
Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book by Love
Fresh Milk: The Secret Life of Breasts by Giles
Lactation:Physiology, Nutrition, and Breast-Feeding by Neville and Neifert
Medications and Mothers' Milk by Thomas Hale
Milk, Money, and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding by Micheles
web articles:
http://www.suite101.com/print_message.cfm/550/4391/702928
http://www.unassistedchildbirth.com/milkmen.htm (cute "Baby Blues" comic strip at the very bottom of this one)
http://www.salon.com/health/feature/1999/06/08/nipples/index1.html
http://www.unhinderedliving.com/nursingfather.html
http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_700634.html

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