Why would I lactate if I'm not pregnant?
January 29, 2011 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I am not pregnant, and yet I'm suddenly lactating in both breasts. Help?

I'm a healthy 22 year old female on no medication of any kind. My weight is about what is should be and hasn't fluctuated recently, I haven't made any significant life style changes that I can think of, and I've never noticed myself lactating before in my life.

I recently posted this thread: http://ask.metafilter.com/176530/Why-do-my-breasts-hurt-so-much. I took a pregnancy test, which was negative, and talked to a nurse, who said that the swelling and pain was most likely just a hormonal fluke and not to worry too much. Today my period arrived about a week earlier than planned... and I also noticed that I am lactating in both my breasts. Its not a huge amount, but if I press down and squeeze each nipple a whitish liquid comes out (not as white as cows milk, but far from clear). Other than being a week early, my period is the same as it always is on the first day, which is very heavy. I am going to contact a doctor soon, but can anyone give me any ideas about what is going on? I'm rather freaked out by this.

A possibly relevant side note is that my younger sister recently became pregnant, which is a source of significant emotional distress for me, as she cannot care for a child and a lot of the responsibility for dealing with this pregnancy will fall on me. She has decided she will put the baby up for adoption, but I am still going to have to help her a lot with this process, the thought of which tears me up inside, although I know there are a lot of good families out there. I don't know if the psychological aspect could cause some sort of reaction like this, but I am also under a lot of stress in general with finishing my last quarter as an undergrad and waiting to hear back about my graduate application.

Thanks for any info anyone can provide me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This happened to me in college. There are some hormone-secreting tumors that can cause this. Many people have them, they are not terribly unusual. Most of them grow slowly, if at all, and are totally manageable with medication. That said, if this is what you have, it would be a good idea to get it checked out because some of them have the potential to grow quickly which could be scary [it can impact your vision and other things going on in your brain, this is unusual but can happen]. You can get a blood test which can look at the hormone levels in your blood and give the doctor a good idea as to whether you have a hormone abnormality of some kind. If it looks like this is what you might have, you could get an MRI to confirm whether you have a tumor. One of the common things that can cause this is pituitary microadenomas. I was very scared when mine got diagnosed but it's been over ten years now and there's been no change in the tiny tumor I have. I get it checked out regularly and things are fine. mathowie had one that presented itself a little more frighteningly, so it's worth getting it looked at soon.

Other things that can cause lactation include pot smoking, physical stimulation (i.e. you keep squeezing it will keep happening), and some medications. Googleable term is Galactorrhea. I am not a doctor, but I've gone through this myself.
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 AM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

You absolutely should go to a doctor as soon as possible, of course, but there might be some sort of Couvade syndrome/false pregnancy thing going on. Particularly since you're anxious regarding your sister's pregnancy.
posted by phunniemee at 8:24 AM on January 29, 2011

IANAD, of course...

1. The first thing most women think regarding any kind of breast change it, "It's cancer." In your case, it does not sound LIKELY to be cancer (note: I have the BRCA1 gene, so I'm pretty well attuned to all the little minute breast symptoms which MIGHT be The Big C). It'll take a doc to rule it out, of course, but it's very unlikely.

2. First thought: there are some drugs which can induce lactation as a side effect. On any meds?

3. It could also be some sort of endocrine issue.

4. However, you're gonna want a GOOD internal medicine doc. They're "the doctor's doctor", and are very skilled at steering you towards the right specialists.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2011

Could you have been a little bit pregnant -- it could be that the tender breasts were an early sign of a pregnancy which then ended. (I think there's a word for it other than miscarriage when it happens right at the beginning.) So maybe the hormonal response caused this?
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2011

Get your prolactin levels checked.
posted by queens86 at 9:28 AM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you taking Prozac? This happened to me when I took Prozac. Uncommon side effect, but it happens.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:50 AM on January 29, 2011

Oops, missed the "on no medication" bit. Ignore me.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:51 AM on January 29, 2011

Doubling queens86-- pitutary tumors will make you produce prolactin, which will make you lactate. It's not cancer, and it won't kill you, but it is kind of obnoxious if you don't get it treated.
posted by headspace at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2011

A friend of mine has lived most of her adult life dealing with lactation due to a tumor as mentioned by headspace and jessamyn. It does affect her vision and medication has it in retreat. Go see a doctor just to be safe!
posted by yeloson at 10:11 AM on January 29, 2011

Previously. (Only on the internet.) Do talk to your doctor, but don't freak out.
posted by anaelith at 12:28 PM on January 29, 2011

Thanks for the info so far, everyone. I (the OP) took another pregnancy test last night just to be sure, and it was again negative. I will be calling the doctor on Monday.
posted by wansac at 3:19 PM on January 29, 2011

Although a tumor is possible, I honestly think a physiological response to your sister's situation is the most likely reason for this. You're about to become responsible for your sister's baby and in a deeply emotional situation about it? Oh yeah, it's possible.

Get yourself checked out and tested, absolutely. You want to rule a health problem out. But I certainly wouldn't panic.

People in our society don't breast feed long or often, so there is a general belief that it's difficult to trigger lactation. It's not. Girls who have never gotten pregnant have successfully nursed when given a baby to look after. I mean without being given hormones to induce lactation. Post menopausal women breastfeed other women's babies in many cultures. Women even breastfeed piglets! I think human beings more than any other species are designed to foster other female's babies. In a lot of societies they used to cram all the women that they could possibly fit into the room to attend the birth. This increases the baby's chances because every one of those women become a possible foster mother, not just because they might bond with the baby but because being there at the birth can induce lactation in the women attending.

People are unconsciously affected by other people's pheromones all the time. There's one study that shows that straight men find the scent of gay men's sweat yucky, menstruating women's scent unpleasant and ovulating women's scent pleasing. You know, I expect, how women synchronize their periods from smelling each other's sweat? In the long run this leads to having babies born at the same time, and women being more able to foster an orphaned or rejected infant.

Smelling her sweat is not the only unseen mechanism involved. I mentioned earlier that listening to a baby cry can trigger lactation. Your sister's pregnancy will have a different and stronger effect on you than other women's would. Her child is genetically the closest to your own child, so it makes good sense that your body is perhaps trying to prepare to help the child in the most basic way it can.

Oh, and if you noticed that you are lactating, as in you found the leakage without actually trying to express milk, then you are definitely producing a fair bit of fluid. If you want to drain them a little to reduce the swelling and soreness you want to "strip" the breasts. Gently pinch a little way further in than the aereola and then draw your fingers outward towards the nipple maintaining the tightness. (Maybe think of squeezing toothpaste out of a tube that is almost empty, so if you don't get it going in the right direction it will stay in the tube.) This should squeeze any milk that is just behind the aereola towards the opening in the milk ducts. If it is in there in any quantity a few motions like that will get it flowing. This is very similar to the motion a nursing baby makes with its mouth and tongue. It doesn't suck although that will bring the milk out too, but sucking is harder on the breasts and nipples and will cause chapping. Don't try to empty them unless you want to encourage more milk to be produced; just take enough so they don't feel so sore any more. Don't strip them at all if you want the lactation to stop asap, and the discomfort isn't a problem.

IANAD, or a nurse, or a lactation coach. But I did nurse four children. And my own ability to produce milk is such that your lactation doesn't seem outlandish to me.

For what it's worth, if you ever decide to have a child and ever decide to nurse it, the chances are very high that you will find it unusually easy.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:42 PM on January 29, 2011

I can't believe that I am going to write this on the internet, but... I lactated when my sister had her first child. I have no children. It was cool and weird. Nature is amazing!
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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