In reported instances where it is culturally acceptable for a man to breastfeed, it is used primarily to pacify the baby whilst the mother is not available. The men of the African Aka tribe have no qualms with offering their nipple to their children if the mother is busy elsewhere.
Also, in the animal kingdom, the male Dayak Fruit Bats will share the breastfeeding load with the females. Scientists discovered a group of these bats which mammary glands filled with milk.
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Holy ancient texts
There is another reason why it is possible that men may have played a greater part in breastfeeding in ancient history. There are allusions to it in ancient texts like the Bible:
Have I conceived all these 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 didst swear unto their fathers?
– Numbers 11:12
There is also a discussion in the Talmud about a father who spontaneously began lactating after his wife died in childbirth. Some argued it was a miracle that he was able to keep his young child alive by producing milk.
Men Make Milk Too
In more recent history, there were recorded cases in the 1896 “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine“. A male missionary and another male native began breastfeeding their babies after their wives were found to be incapable.
And even this century, Mr. B Wijeratne, a Sri Lankan man began breastfeeding his toddler daughter when his wife died in childbirth with their second child. He fed his new baby with formula milk, but his older child was only pacified by nursing at his nipple.
Women who adopt babies can take hormones and stimulate their breasts, in order to nurse their new child
It is possible that a gay couple could follow a similar procedure when they decide to have a child with a surrogate or adopt.
There are also instances where men will produce milk due to illness or extreme stress. Some men develop a condition called galactorrhea where a hormone imbalance causes them to develop breasts. These men occasionally leak milk.
Also, POWs during WWII started to produce milk when recovering from starvation. Because their livers took longer to heal, it interfered with their regular male hormone production. They had developed large quantities of prolactin in their bodies.
The Science of Male Milk
Male milk has also been studied by scientists. There was a study done in 1981 examining the milk that one man had produced. It was shown to have equal nutritional value to a mother’s milk.
The human body is an incredibly complex organism. There are likely many more things your body is capable of, that you don’t yet realize.
And it is unlikely that equality of the sexes will lead to mass populations of men breastfeeding their offspring. However, it is good to know that the sexes are equal in more ways than we have previously suspected.