We are all accustomed to notice women lactating after giving birth to a baby but did you know that a baby too can produce milk after their birth? Quite surprising right? Well, this is actually true. There have been many reports stating babies producing a milky substance upon birth. The phenomenon of babies producing milk is known as neonatal galactorrhea or witch’s milk.
Now you may wonder what is this witch’s milk? Why does the baby secrete this milky substance? And is it normal for such a secretion or is it a symptom of an underlying chronic condition? If your mind is also boggled with all these questions, then continue reading the article as we delve further into this phenomenon.
What is Witch’s milk?
Witch’ milk or the neonatal milk is the folk term used to describe the milky substance secreted from the breasts of some babies. Did you know how this term came up? Stemming from the folklore of middle age, it was considered that lactated secretion is bad milk and ‘familiar’ spirits used to use this milky secretion for their witchcraft and hence such a name was used to describe the phenomenon.
The medical term used for neonatal milk is Galactorrhea. This condition is rare but not uncommon and affects approximately around 5℅ of the newborns’ population. Galactorrhea affects newborns of either sex and this condition is common in normal babies than preterm newborns as preterm newborns do not have fully developed breast tissues. Infants affected with galactorrhea have larger breast nodules as compared to the newborns who are not affected. You will also be able to see the tenderness and swelling of the tissues around that region.
What are the causes of the milky secretion?
Galactorrhea is a very rare condition and therefore most of the studies are limited, however, as most of the studies reported, the most common cause of witch’s milk is due to transplacental maternal hormones.
It has been reported that neonatal milk is produced when in the placental condition, huge levels of maternal estrogen cross the womb and enter into the bloodstream of the baby. This hormone causes the breast tissue of the baby to enlarge which ultimately leads to the production of neonatal milk.
Other causes of witch’s milk are
- High levels of estrogen in the breast milk.
- Chronic conditions like
- Hypothyroidism- Increased levels of thyroid-releasing hormone increases thyroid-stimulating hormone as well as prolactin which causes galactorrhea
- Hyperprolactinemia- Increased prolactin levels in the bloodstream causes unusual milk secretion by newborns.
- Side effects due to certain medications
- Cannabis use by mothers can create an effect on the newborn leading to the milk secretion.
Is the neonatal milk secretion normal?
The milky discharge produced by the newborns is spontaneous, one-sided and persistent and can go away naturally by two months of age. You may however notice blood discharge with the milk production and that can be sometimes an indication of breast cancer. Nevertheless, that assumption is also most of the time ruled out as it is very rare to have that cancer at such a young age and most of the time the blood discharge is due to a stimulant or irritant.
How can the condition of witch’s milk be treated?
Galactorrhea can be a rare occurrence but there is nothing to worry about as it usually goes away naturally by two months of age. However, make sure to not to stimulate or encourage milk production as drawing the milk out will only increase the milk production and aggravate the condition further leading to severe complications like
- Increased discharge production and a prolonged lactation period
- Irritating the breast tissue leading to inflammation and pain
- Breast abscesses and mastitis where there is a painful infection of the breast tissue caused due to microbes.
However, with all that being said if you notice any of the above conditions and notice that the tissues around the breasts of the newborns have become swollen, red and tender, then immediately consult your paediatrician.
Witch’s milk is a rare condition affecting only 5% of the total population of the newborns but there is nothing to be worried about. Most of the times it has been observed that it has been caused due to excess maternal hormones crossing the placental wall and entering into the foetus’s bloodstream or this condition can also occur if the excess estrogen hormone enters the newborn’s body through breastfeeding.
Most of the websites recommend abstaining from breastfeeding if the newborn is suffering from the condition of neonatal galactorrhea but this is a foolish recommendation, to begin with. It is essential to breastfeed the newborn as the milk produced is essential for the development and general well being of the baby and abstaining it will lead to grave complications in the future.
Now coming back to the causes of galactorrhea, it has been noticed very rarely that the lactation is due to cancerous growth in the body. The condition of neonatal galactorrhea usually goes away within two months but if you notice that the condition persists even after the stipulated time period and further aggravation of the condition occurs or you notice your newborn becoming irritated or restless with each passing day, consult your doctor immediately.
For treating the condition, you should not be using any treatment to treat neonatal galactorrhea unless instructed by your paediatrician. Many people, believing the popular folklore about the familiar spirits, try to massage the milk completely out of the newborn’s body. This practice can only further aggravate the condition as with massage, the tissues become more tender, red and swollen and this can lead to complications further. Breast abscesses and mastitis are the common complications that arise on over stimulating the breast tissues of the newborns
Galactorrhea is a condition that affects adults as well of either sex, therefore, there are quite a few medications available in the market to treat the condition but since we are talking about a newborn, it is best to avoid such medications unless recommended by your doctor. Make sure not to overstimulate the breast tissues of the newborn and do not make them wear tight clothes. Follow the instructions and recommendations of your paediatric and neonatal galactorrhea would be soon ameliorated.