Odd as it seems, men can lactate. In their 1896 book, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, Dr. George Gould and Dr. Walter Pyle recount several occurrences of men breastfeeding their young. The stories include a sailor who put his son to his breast to quiet him and started producing milk; a South American peasant who sustained his child with his own breast milk during his wife’s illness; and a Chippewa man who put his infant to his breast following the death of his wife and produced enough milk to rear the child.
B. Wijeratne breastfeeding his 18 month-old daughter
The phenomenon hasn’t stopped. In 2002, a Sri Lankan man named B. Wijeratne lost his wife and was left to care for their 18-month-old daughter. When the child refused powdered milk, Wijeratne tried something different. “Unable to see her cry, I offered my breast,” Wijeratne told a Sri Lankan newspaper. “That’s when I discovered I could breastfeed.”
Wijeratne isn’t alone. All men can breastfeed, because they possess the two most vital components for lactating—mammary glands and pituitary glands. Mammary glands, which produce milk, are present in all mammals. In fact, they’re one of our defining characteristics. In some cases, such as with mice, the mammary glands of the males are too underdeveloped to function. In humans, however, they’re fully formed in both sexes, complete with breastfeeding ducts and nipples.
Swedish father Ragnar Bengtsson, 26, has entered into an experiment that he hopes will help him breastfeed his future children.
On Tuesday, the Stockholm family man began stimulating his breasts with a pump in a bid to produce milk.
"Anything that doesn't do any harm is worth trying out. And if it works it could prove very important for men's ability to get much closer to their children at an early stage," Bengtsson told The Local.
His efforts are to be documented by Swedish TV8, with the first instalment scheduled to air at 9pm on Wednesday on the Aschberg show. Bengtsson also maintains a blog on the station's website, the title of which translates as: 'The Milkman - One Drop at a Time'.
Bengtsson is preparing to pump his breasts at three-hour intervals every day until the beginning of December. As a full time economics student at Stockholm University, he is not always going to be in a position to pump in private.
"I'm going to have to pull out the pump during lectures. But really it doesn't bother me if it makes people uncomfortable. If they have issues with it that's their problem," he said.
Male lactation is a relatively common side effect of hormone treatments, but Bengtsson has no plans to chemically induce the process.
"If it works and the milk turns out to have a high nutritional value it could be a real breakthrough," he said.
Bengtsson has a 2-year-old son who is in no way involved in the experiment, but the Stockholm dad doesn't rule our breastfeeding any future kids. Not everybody has acclaimed his quest for fathers' milk, however.
"There have been a lot of strong reactions. Some people think it's completely sick," he said.