If you are experiencing lactation without pregnancy, it can be a confusing and potentially an annoying problem, but it is not uncommon. While some of the causes are harmless and the symptoms may disappear on their own, it is best to see a doctor if you are experiencing this type of lactation, as it could indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires medical attention.
What is Lactation without Pregnancy?
As most people know, lactation is the process by which milk is secreted from the mammary glands of mammals, through the nipples, in order to feed their young ones. Lactation is a completely normal part of life for countless species, but lactation without pregnancy can be mystifying to some women. It leads some women to think they are pregnant, or that there is something seriously wrong with their hormone levels or reproductive system.
At the most basic level, lactation without pregnancy – which is formally known as galactorrhea – occurs in the same way as lactation for pregnant women. The body tells specialized cells in the lobules of the breast to produce milk, composed of protein and fat. Once these cells are matured, they are released through the ducts in the lobules, which are connected to the nipple.
The signal from the body to these specialized cells, which stimulate the production of milk, can occur for a number of reasons, even without a pregnancy.
Some of the most common causes of lactation without pregnancy include breast stimulation, medication, hypothyroidism or benign tumor growth, among others.
Tumor Growth – Also known as prolactinoma, this is a condition where small benign tumors form on the pituitary gland in the brain, causing the production of prolactin, which triggers lactation in women who aren’t pregnant.
Hypothyroidism – If you are suffering from low levels of thyroid hormone, this tends to cause high levels of prolactin, mentioned above, thus leading to more lactation.
Miscarriage – If you are experiencing galactorrhea, it may mean that you experienced a miscarriage and your body is still responding to the initial release of pregnancy hormones. This could be the first indication that you suffered a chemical pregnancy or an early miscarriage.
Symptoms of Lactation without Pregnancy
If you are suffering from lactation without pregnancy, leaking breast milk is not the only symptom. You may also experience the following symptoms, which should prompt a visit to the doctor for a more formal examination.
- Irregular menstruation
- Vision problems
- Decreased libido
- Unusual hair growth
- Breast swelling
There are a number of ways in which doctors can diagnose this condition, including a blood test, physical examination, mammogram, and a pregnancy test.
Physical Exam – A doctor can often feel the breasts for unusual masses or growths in the breast to determine the underlying cause of the lactation. They will also likely want a sample of the milky discharge from your breast to test.
Mammogram – Basically an X-ray for your breast, this is a common diagnostic procedure that can help doctors understand more about what is happening in your breasts, and also identifying tumors.
Blood Test – A blood test could reveal which hormones are imbalanced in your body, which could help to guide treatments, particularly if the problem is due to a tumor on your thyroid gland.
Pregnancy Test – A pregnancy test is often administered to ensure that there isn’t a legitimate pregnancy.
Treatments for Lactation without Pregnancy
The treatment options for lactation without pregnancy depend entirely on the underlying cause and typically include medications, radiation therapy or surgery.
The use of medication to the risk of pituitary tumors or reduce the amount of prolactin being produced by the body can both help to minimize symptoms of this condition.
In the case of certain tumor growth, even if it isn’t cancerous, maybe radiation therapy, as this can rapidly decrease the size of the tumors and eliminate the symptoms of this problem. Note that radiation therapy often comes with its own side effects.
In some instances, when radiation therapy or medication doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove any tumors from your pituitary gland.
While some cases of galactorrhea are unavoidable, you can lessen your risks by lowering stress levels, avoiding tight-fitting clothing or irritating bras, and reducing breast stimulation when possible.
Reduce sexual activity and the stimulation of your breasts, as both of these, will induce lactation in some women.
Tight clothes or irritating fabrics, particularly when it comes to bras, can cause milk production in the breasts, so always ensure you have the proper cup size and comfortable clothes, both during the day and at night.