Proof that Males Lactate?

Male humans do not lactate. I know that this may come as a surprise to you, especially since we are now being told that males just might be able to lactate and so breast feed their young. This information comes from such trusted sources as the Scientific American, after all, how could a magazine with that moniker not be trusted![1]  Now, there are those who might be a little dubious about a male’s ability to breast feed. But how could anyone argue with Dustin Hoffman’s strong urge to breastfeed?[2] Indeed, could there be stronger testimony to man’s lactation abilities?  But others may need stronger proof than an old actor’s urge and so there is the Dayak fruit bat. 

There we have incontestable proof of a lactating male bat that breast feeds its young hungry bat-children. No less than a 2022 article, titled “Lactation is Not Only for Cisgender Biological Mothers,” tells us so.[3] But before you start to lactate, you had better cool your glands. This 2022 article cites an outdated 1994 article to substantiate its claim. However, if you visit the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology website you will find something different. Check out this recent information.

Dayak fruit bats are much like other bats of the family Pteropodidae in the amount of time and care it invests in their young. Little information, however, has been compiled on the periods of gestation and lactation for this species. In September, neither male nor female captured individuals were lactating, but in July and August, captured individuals of both sexes were lactating. It is currently debated whether adult male bats nurse their young…Some argue that Galactorrhoea is a better word to attribute to adult males rather than lactation, as it is currently unknown if males actually use their milk to nurse their offspring (Kristofer, 2007; Racey 2009).

What is Galactorrhoea, you may be wondering? It’s a milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production of breast-feeding. Galactorrhea itself isn't a disease, but it could be a sign of an underlying problem.[4]

My guess is that, if you haven’t stopped reading by now, you’re wondering why I am droning on about the Dayak fruit bat.  Well, in part, it’s because this little fun “fact” is being bandied about as evidence that mammals can and do lactate.  The fruit bat has become the poster child for transgendered women. As an aside, I think it’s interesting that the transgender crowd is always and forever telling us not to look at the material/body but it’s what’s in the mind that matters! But all of a sudden, the flimsy evidence of the Dayak bat is now incontestable proof of male lactation. 

But forget the fruit bat that has been so little studied and is now being debated and let’s return to the Scientific American.  Nikhil Swaminathan, the author of “Strange but True: Males Can Lactate,” contends that there are literary descriptions of men breastfeeding from the Talmud to Tolstoy.  Swaminathan even gives an example from Anna Karenina, wherein he says that “there is a short anecdote of a baby suckling an Englishman for sustenance while on board a ship.”[5]

Now, let’s just pause to consider that incident in Anna Karenina.  Swaminathan cites it as a proven incident or a story like account.  However, the context would surely contest that literalist reading. In fact, the story is a joke.  The reference is in book four and chapter ten. The issue under discussion was women’s education and whether women possessed rights or obligations in society.  The old prince, Kitty’s father, had been listening quietly “his mocking little eyes twinkling.” In the heat of the conversation one combatant said, “Obligations are coupled with rights. Power, money, honours – that’s what women are seeking.” To which the old prince said, “The same as if I should seek the right to be a wet nurse and get offended that women are paid for it while I am refused.” His companion “burst in load laughter” and “another was sorry he did not say it himself” and a third simply “smiled.”

But one of the more serious, wanting to get the conversation back on track, said, “Yes, but a man can’t nurse.” To which the old prince said, “No, there was an Englishman who nursed his baby on a ship.” However, the attempt of the old prince failed to have the same effect and the conversation turned serious again. All were trying to enjoy and ignore the old prince, but he had the last word saying, “And I’m cramped and oppressed that I can’t get hired as a wet nurse in an orphanage” to the great joy of his companion “who laughed so much that he dropped the thick end of his asparagus into the sauce.”  Does that sound like Tolstoy was citing a real instance of breastfeeding? Or was an old prince seeking to make his companions laugh? Of course, the latter.  One could only wish that the Scientific American had some fluency reading classic literature. 

Nevertheless, unwilling to let the subject die, Swaminathan tells us that there is a condition, that if met, a man could lactate – starvation! If a man was starving, not just a little hangry, but really starving to the point of abnormal liver function, then a man could lactate.  Really?  It sounds more like Galactorrhoea to me.  You remember, the fruit bats?  It is a milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production of breast-feeding, which is likely a sign of an underlying problem.  In this case, liver problems from starvation. 

Friends, this idea that male human beings can lactate is nothing short of nonsense.  God created men and women different.  They are not the same. In our world, we have become dumb.  Our leaders, scientist, doctors, and sadly even some ministers claim ignorance with regard to what a woman is and what a man is.  And if we continue to forsake the glory of God for a lie we will continue in the same drivel, that is, until God has had enough of our nonsense. May we repent long before.  

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.