Some Men Can Breastfeed!
In late 2004 the Internet Movie Database reported that Dustin Hoffman suddenly had the urge to breast-feed. Had the then-67-year-old Hoffman—who brought mainstream culture face to face with autism in Rain Man and went mano a mano with an Ebola-like filovirus in Outbreak—never quite broken character from his 1982 filmTootsie? Nope. He was just really keen to help out with his first grandchild.
Interestingly, he could have possibly lent a helping, er, breast, if he had held the suckling newborn to his nipples for a couple weeksalthough he could also have tried starving himself or taking a medication that would affect his brain’s pituitary gland.
There have been countless literary descriptions of men miraculously breast-feeding, from The Talmud to Tolstoy, where, in Anna Karenina, there is a short anecdote of a baby suckling an Englishman for sustenance while on board a ship. The little anthropological evidence documented suggests it is possible. In the 1896 compendium Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, George Gould and Walter Pyle catalogue several instances of male nursing being observed. Among them was a South American man, observed by Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who subbed as wet nurse after his wife fell ill as well as male missionaries in Brazil that were the sole milk supply for their children because their wives had shriveled breasts. More recently, Agence France-Presse reported a short piece in 2002 on a 38-year-old man in Sri Lanka who nursed his two daughters through their infancy after his wife died during the birth of her second child.
In her 1978 book The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding, medical anthropologist Dana Raphael claimed that men could induce lactation simply by stimulating their nipples. The eminent endocrinologist Robert Greenblatt of the Medical College of Georgia concurred. But Jack Newman, a Toronto-based doctor and breast-feeding expert, insists that in order to produce milk, a hormone spike must occur. “That Tolstoy quote suggests that the father just put the baby to the breast and he would produce milk; I think that’s pretty unlikely,” he says. “It could be that you have this man with this pituitary tumor and he produces milk once the baby starts suckling.”