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April 08, 2005

Male Lactation

In comments to dobeln's post Tales From The Blank Slate - Part II Richard Sharpe writes:

Perhaps the next bold Swedish step is to require fathers to have hormone treatments so they can breast feed as well!

Now, I'm sure he thought he was being quite the quipster, but he provided me with just the right excuse to unleash this outlandishness.

Milkmen: Fathers Who Breastfeed

I first became interested in male lactation in 1978 after reading Dana Raphael's book, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding. Although Raphael only dealt with the subject briefly, she did say that men can and have produced milk after stimulating their nipples.

[ . . . . . ]

We didn't give it much thought after that until years later when I came across a short article called "Male Lactation" by Professor Patty Stuart Macadam of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto (Compleat Mother, Fall, 1996, Volume 43).

It is possible, and has been observed in animals and humans. In 1992, 18 Dayak fruit bats were captured from a rainforest in the Krau Game Reserve, Pahang, Malaysia. Of the 10 mature males captured, each had functional mammary glands from which small amounts of milk were expressed. A breast is a breast. Male lactation is physiologically possible and, according to Dr. Robert Greenblatt, production in males can be stimulated by letting a baby suckle for several weeks. Indeed some human males secrete milk at birth and at puberty.

Historically, male lactation was noted by the German explorer Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt prior to 1859, who wrote of a 32-year-old man who breastfed his child for five months. It was also observed in a 55-year-old Baltimore man who had been the wetnurse of the children of his mistress.

Here is the Wiki entry for Male Lactation. Here is an article from the gay parenting magazine And Baby. Here is the official statement from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homsexuality. Here is Fiona Gile's book Fresh Milk: The Secret Life of Breasts in which she discusses male lactation. Here is our favorite author, Jared Diamond devoting over 20 pages (pages 41-62) to the topic of male lactation in his book, Why is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality.

Diamond hits the topic again in Discover Magazine in his piece Father's Milk.

Experience may tell you that producing milk and nursing youngsters is a job for the female mammal, not the male. But your experience is probably limited, and the potential of biology--and medical technology--is vast.

Here is the story of a Sri Lankan widower who breastfeeds his children.

For those of you who appreciate historical precedent, there is David Livingstone's account of male lactation in Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. And if you're very selective in how you chose your Biblical interpretation, (or misinterpretation if you will) you can find passages such as:

Numbers:11-12: Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing-father carrieth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?

Isaiah:49-23: Kings shall be your nursing fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers: they shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, and lick the dust of your feet; and you shall know that I am Yahweh; and those who wait for me shall not be disappointed

Here is a PubMed article, Lactation induced by luteotrophin in women with mammary cancer; growth of the breast of the human male following estrogenic treatment that notes the phenomena of male lactation.

Now, as Jane Galt noted in her outstanding essay on gay marriage there are usually unintended consequences that follow from initiatives that are advocated passionately in the politics of the moment. The region where the bizarre transforms into the everyday is not in the mainstream where people are contemplating the political issue rather the transformation occurs on the margin. We saw from the whole Summers fracas that the "gender is a social construction" mindset is quite alive and well. If feminism is predicated on an ideology that runs counter to biological constraints will it be biology or ideology that must give way? We see that the National Organization of Women has taken the American Society for Reproductive Medicine to task for having the gall to run advertisements advising women that:

"Advancing age decreases your ability to have children." The physicians viewed this as a public service, given the evidence of widespread confusion about the facts, but the group has come under fire for scaring women with an oversimplified message on a complex subject. "The implication is, 'I have to hurry up and have kids now or give up on ever having them,'" says Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "And that is not true for the vast majority of women." Gandy, 48, had her first child at 39. "It was a choice on my part, but in most ways it really wasn't. It's not like you can create out of whole cloth a partner you want to have a family with and the economic and emotional circumstances that allow you to be a good parent. So to put pressure on young women to hurry up and have kids when they don't have those other factors in place really does a disservice to them and to their kids."

Clearly N.O.W. doesn't know how to reconcile biological limitations with the ideology that gender is a social construction. In my mind they are the likely candidate to be pushing on the margin for further research into artificial wombs: (also see our post on this topic)

Dr. Liu Hung-ching, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cornell University in the United States, reported Tuesday at an international biotechnology conference in Taipei that she is currently working to develop an artificial uterus that would solve the problem of infertility for some women.

Combined with egg-banking:

Recent advances in banking frozen eggs have been spurred in part by the Catholic church's view that embryos must be protected as living individuals. In predominantly Catholic Italy, embryo freezing is frowned upon, and the practice was banned in February this year. Realizing the need for an alternative, Eleonora Porcu and her team at the University of Bologna have developed a liquid including a sugar and 1,2-propanediol, which acts as an antifreeze that allows eggs to survive freezing.

Using her solution, and fertilizing eggs by injecting sperm, Porcu has improved the success rate from one birth per 100 frozen eggs to about one in five3. "Egg freezing is almost ready to be introduced into the clinical routine," she concludes. Indeed, the Boston-based firm Extend Fertility already offers egg banking through their US fertility clinics for prices that start at $12,500.

And we may soon see a day where a woman, on a fundamental level, is really no different than a man. She would have some eggs extracted and frozen when she was in her twenties, then focus on her career and when the mood struck her she could phone the egg-bank and have her eggs unfrozen, impregnated with sperm and implanted into an artificial uterus.

Considering the lack of interest men are showing in higher education, and assuming that women can find some way to rewire their preferences so that they're content to marry down, the role of househusband should be one that has a bright future. Yes, ideology, with the aid of technology, will soon be able to trump biology.

And those househusbands, well they'll be at home nursing the baby, and to help you visualize such a future I leave you with pictures of man-boobs on prominent display.

Posted by TangoMan at 01:27 PM