Lactation Without Pregnancy – Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

5 min read

Written by Rathnavalli Pradeep

Rathnavalli Pradeep

Lactation Without Pregnancy

Lactation can be a very happy experience for new mothers who get to hold and feed that little life they just brought into the big world. The body of mammals is magically designed to provide for their off-springs without having to depend on external sources. Mother’s milk is in fact the most healthiest and nutritious source of food for the first few months.

Lactation is supposed to be the most natural response by the woman’s body when she has just or is about to deliver a baby. In some of the not so rare cases, this can happen even when there is no pregnancy. Confused? Breasts can start secreting milk even when there is no active pregnancy or breastfeeding happening. This can be a rare disorder in the pituitary glands or a side effect of certain strong medications.

In This Article

What is Lactation Without Pregnancy?

Lactation without pregnancy is the situation where a woman’s breast produces milk without a pregnancy or a baby to breastfeed. Some women continue to produce milk even for months after they have successfully weaned their babies off breast milk. This is not very rare. Many of these women graciously donate their breast milk for needy babies.

In some rare cases, when the woman is mostly between the ages of 20 and 35 years, the breasts can produce milk. The milk production can be scanty, continuous, just in one breast or both breasts, or even intermittent. This is a disorder of the pituitary glands called “galactorrhea”.

Why Do Women Lactate Without Pregnancy?

The reasons could be plenty. Some of the most common reasons for lactation without pregnancy are:

  • Overproduction of prolactin. Prolactin is usually produced after delivery. When this hormone is produced in excess without a pregnancy, it can cause breasts to secrete milk. This could be due to the absence of monthly periods.
  • Overstimulation of the nipples during sex, self-examinations, pumping, or even due to clothing that rubs against the nipples causes irritation.
  • Certain disorders involving the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
  • Tumors in the pituitary glands.
  • Traumatic events that can cause undue stress or hormonal imbalance.
  • Injuries to the spine or burns.
  • Medical conditions such as thyroid problems, kidney disease, chronic stress, high estrogen levels, damage to the breast tissue.
  • Reaction to drugs like opiates and marijuana.
  • Medications like antidepressants, birth control pills, blood pressure medicines, some pain killers, and medicines that contain hormones in them.

Symptoms of Lactation Without Pregnancy

Nervousness Symptoms of Galactorrhea

Not sure if you are lactating without pregnancy? Here are a few symptoms in addition to breasts leaking milk, which might require immediate medical consultation:

  • Breasts have bloody fluid leaking from them
  • Menstrual periods are very irregular
  • Visual disturbances
  • Polydipsia
  • Infertility
  • Decreases sex drive
  • Constipation
  • Tiredness
  • Nervousness
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Restlessness
  • Decrease in weight despite increasing intake
  • Disruption in appetite
  • Intolerance towards heat
  • Intolerance towards cold
  • Amenorrhea

Many of these symptoms, when they occur independently, can be confused with other health issues. This is why a doctor does not suspect galactorrhea right away. Only if the lactation is accompanied by one or more of the above-mentioned symptoms, do they take consider galactorrhea.

Diagnosis of Galactorrhea Without Pregnancy

To diagnose galactorrhea, the doctor will check the following:

  • A pregnancy test to rule out a possible pregnancy.
  • Your family history to understand if this could be hereditary.
  • A physical examination of the breasts.
  • Blood tests to check various hormonal levels.
  • An MRI of the brain to see if there are any tumors or an issue with the pituitary gland.
  • A mammogram or an ultrasound of the breasts.
  • Medications you have been taking to rule out side effects.

It can be quite challenging to make this diagnosis. There are many factors as mentioned earlier, that can cause galactorrhea; especially if the lactation is intermittent or random.

How to Treat Lactation Without Pregnancy?

Since there is no direct cure for galactorrhea itself, the doctor will aim to treat the underlying condition that could be causing you to lactate.

Once diagnosed with galactorrhea, the doctor will follow these treatment options to help you:

  • In case of a confirmed tumor, the doctor will remove it. The tumor need not be cancerous to be removed, if it is causing any trouble, doctors will remove it.
  • If the medications you are taking is causing this side effect, the doctor might prescribe alternate medications or stop this medicine for a while.
  • If it is hormonal imbalance, the doctor will give you treatments to attain a better balance.

Whatever the underlying cause may be, once it is treated, the lactation should stop. If it doesn’t, the doctor will take more tests to find out what could be triggering such lactation. This may take time and can sometimes be uncomfortable or even painful. Unless the doctor is able to find the underlying cause that might be triggering the milk production, the lactation may not be stoppable.

How to Prevent Lactation When Not Pregnant?

women with doctor

No one wants their breasts to lactate when there is no baby in the picture. It can not only be embarrassing, but it can also be very uncomfortable too. Here are a few tips to help you out if you are experiencing galactorrhea:

  • Avoid over stimulating the breasts during sex. Let your partner know when to stop.
  • Do not be too hard on the breasts when you are self-examining them. Reduce the frequency too.
  • Reduce stress with lifestyle changes instead of medications.
  • If certain medicines are causing you to lactate, speak to your doctor and ask for alternatives. It may take to time to identify the right alternative but with a supportive doctor, it is possible.
  • Avoid clothing that rubs against and irritates the nipples. Wear bras and clothing that are soft and breathable.
  • Test your hormonal levels to ensure they are all in the right range.

Lactating when you are not pregnant or breastfeeding a baby can be quite alarming. A doctor will be able to guide and help you. If you have any experiences or tips that can help others in a similar situation, please share them with us. Let us help other women, together.


1. At What Age Can Lactation Without Pregnancy Happen?

Such lactations can happen at any age. There have been reports of babies lactating. This happens when a lot of estrogens have been transferred to the baby from the mother. The lactation will subside on its own.

2. Can Galactorrhea Indicate Cancer?

Galactorrhea could be due to a tumor in the brain or the pituitary gland. However, this tumor need not be cancerous. Unless the tumor is removed and tested, one cannot confirm if it’s cancerous.

3. Can Birth Control Pills Cause Lactation?

Yes, they can. Birth control pills alter the hormonal levels to prevent pregnancy. It can even influence the prolactin levels to spike up, thus causing the breasts to produce milk.

4. Can Surgery Fix Lactation Without Pregnancy?

Yes, it can. Surgery can remove the tumor that is pressing against the pituitary gland, thus causing lactation. Surgeries are done only if there are no medication options. If medicines can reduce or remove the tumor, doctors will try that first.

Read Also: Irregular Periods in Women

Rathnavalli Pradeep,BE in Computer Science from Bharathidasan university, Tirucharapalli.

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