The Burning Question: Should Men Lactate?

If you’ve read my blog yesterday about the possibility of male lactation, I left readers hanging as to my personal view on the subject and rather just presented some information to ponder. The summary is yes, men can lactate. The burning question is: should this be the beginning of the revolution of mothering around the globe? Should men and women begin sharing equally the work of. . .breastfeeding? Isn’t the mantra of the women’s lib movement equality and is this not the ultimate in equality between men and women? My short answer to ‘the burning question’ is no, I don’t think men should quit their day jobs to breastfeed. Here are a few reasons why:

1. I mentioned in my last blog that in order for men to produce enough milk to feed a full term infant, they need hormone therapy. I do need to note, for the sake of being accurate that it has been documented a few times where men have only needed nipple stimulation to produce milk. . .but this is not the norm. (As if there is a ‘norm’ in the land of breastfeeding males.) Most men would need at least moderate amounts of hormone therapy.

With that said, I am almost always opposed to putting hormones in people unnecessarily. Also male breast cancer is generally associated with too much estrogen. It seems to me that any benefit of father/baby bonding would be lost when the father dies of breast cancer. (Male breast cancer is often diagnosed much later than female breast cancer presumably because a mammogram is not on a man’s ‘must do’ health check.)

2. I have often said that my husband is a wonderful father. Indeed, I know a lot of fantastic, family-oriented men and I don’t know anyone else who is as involved in caring for the kids as is my husband; with the exception of his own father. With that said, he is a stinky mother. He simply lacks maternal intuition.

Many scientists have noted that what is commonly referred to as the ‘mothering instinct’ has hormonal routes. I don’t believe the hormone rush that breastfeeding causes would be sufficient for men to develop it, nor am I entirely sure that these are the same hormones that cause that hormonal motherly instinct response. As old fashioned as it sounds, I believe women’s bodies were designed to do a job. . .and men were designed for other things!

3. It’s interesting to me, as a mother who has practiced all manner of nursing ‘abnormalities’ (nursing while pregnant, tandem nursing a toddler and an infant, nursing for several years including a few past the age of 3 years) that no one who promotes male lactation as a viable alternative, gives a conscious thought to the social peculiarity of it. Maybe that’s because individuals who have practiced this simply don’t care what other people think and well, that’s fine.

However, I whole heartedly endorse child led weaning and I always recommend breastfeeding for a minimum of two years (as per WHO recommendations). I guarantee you that I get strange looks when I breastfeed my twins in public (and I always nurse them one at a time). I can only imagine what kind of looks a man would get nursing his toddler. I would think male breastfeeding would inherently cause the baby to be weaned early for a variety of reasons. So if there were a woman available–why can’t she do it?

But to all of you who have been reading this in moderate disgust thinking, “Gee this is awfully unnatural,” I would say this: Men giving babies human milk, while odd, is no more unnatural than feeding babies formula. Formula is filled with untested hormones, synthetic and manufactured products and is far on the bottom of WHO’s list of how babies should be fed. Human milk, is still the best nutrition for babies and there is no difference in composition between milk that comes from a man and milk that comes from a woman. However, in the case where a mother is not present, I would suggest a breast milk bank or other donated milk as opposed to male lactation.