Q: Good afternoon doctor. Please what could be responsible for breast milk coming out of my wife’s breast for one week now while she is not yet pregnant?
A: Some women who are not pregnant may have milky fluid come out of their breasts when they are not breastfeeding or even in women who have never been pregnant. This is called galactorrhea. This is not a disease on its own but a symptom of a problem. The hormone, prolactin which is responsible for lactation in nursing mothers, is usually produced in these cases.
This milky fluid can be expressed by pressing or it can spontaneously come out on its own. It can affect one or both breasts and usually there are no blood stains involved.
Sometimes, the cause of this discharge may not be known but some causes could be some medications, some drugs like cocaine, spinal cord injuries, some birth control pills, stress and even excessive stimulation during sexual intercourse.
Galactorrhea can also happen in men and new born babies! In new born babies this can happen if the mother has a high level of estrogen which crosses over into the baby and stimulates the formation of breast tissue and sometimes, some milky white discharge. Please note: this is NOT witchcraft!
If you notice this, please visit your doctor who may try to express this discharge to study. The discharge may also be clear (as in your friend’s case), bloody or even tinged yellow. These need further evaluation and the presence of lumps should also be checked for. The level of prolactin will also be assessed. This may, however, be normal in people who are overly sensitive to prolactin. In this class of people, prolactin level is normal but there is still milky discharge from the nipples.
Treatment is focused on the underlying cause if one can be found. If the problem is medication, please stop or switch to something else under the supervision of your physician (doctor). If there is a tumour producing prolactin, drugs can be taken to shrink it or surgery can be done. If no cause is found, drugs that reduce prolactin level are prescribed. Remember, that your friend could be pregnant and so a pregnancy test may not be out of place.
In the meantime, breast pads can be worn to prevent the embarrassing leaks from staining clothes, limit manipulation of breasts either by self-breast examination or during sexual activity and try not to wear clothes in which there would be friction between the nipples and the material.
All the best!