Human breast milk is a nutritious fluid that is fed to a newborn in order to prevent them from any kind of disease and infections. This breast milk is considered to be ideal food for an infant as it adjusts to a baby’s needs. As breast milk comes in the form of white discharge from the nipples, it is quite normal in pregnant women or new mothers. On the other hand if a non breastfeeding woman experiences some kind of white discharge from their nipples, it can be alarming. If you are someone who has been experiencing this condition then you might need to rush to a hospital to get proper medical advice. This condition of having a milky discharge from the breasts even after not being pregnant is caused due to an increased level of hormone called prolactin. This hormone is made in your pituitary gland that is placed right besides your brain and is one of the eight major endocrine glands. Usually the levels of prolactin hormones increase during pregnancy for production of milk but in some cases the high levels of prolactin takes place without pregnancy as well. Let us take a deep dive into this article and learn more about prolactin hormone and factors that increase the levels of these hormones with Dr. Tanya, MBBS, MSc (Oxon). FRSPH aka Dr. cuterus
Reason for Breast Discharge
Some women tend to observe a milky white discharge from their breasts even when they are not pregnant or aren’t breastfeeding. This condition of lactating without being pregnant is caused due to an increase in the levels of prolactin hormone. Prolactin hormones are produced by the pituitary gland and play an important role in mae and female reproduction.
Usually the levels of these hormones spike up during pregnancy but in some cases women who are not pregnant might also experience an alleviation in levels of this hormone. A spike in hormone production leads to an abnormal discharge from a woman’s breasts which requires immediate medical care.
What is Prolactin?
Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that is placed right besides your brain and is one of the eight major endocrine glands. Mainly used by women to produce breast milk during pregnancy this hormone plays an important role in the process of reproduction. Not just in women but the presence of this hormone is important for both male and female reproductive health. The hormone got its name due to its capability of promoting lactation in mammals. With the pituitary gland not being the only place stimulating this hormone, there are other places from where this hormone can be secreted are the adipose tissues, breasts, immune cells, uterus and skin. This specialized hormone is produced when the body is exposed to high levels of cortisol hormone for a prolonged period of time. Apart from the reproductive system, this hormone lays a vital role in in various other bodily functions as well such as-
- Metabolism of carbs, fats and vitamin D
- Fetal lung development
- Induces ductal growth
- Controls osmobility
- Is involved in the synthesis of milk protein
- Initiates and maintains lactation
- Is involved in the formation of steroid hormones
- Increases male reproductive functioning
Factor that Affect Prolactin Levels
IImage Credits- Medical News Today
Here are some of the factors that might result in increasing the levels of prolactin hormone in your body
#1. Hormonal imbalance
Hormonal changes are something that we all go through at different stages of our life. Right from puberty to pregnancy and to menopause, the levels of hormones present in our body tends to fluctuate. An imbalance in the levels of these hormones can have adverse effects on our health. Hyperprolactinemia is one such condition of hormonal imbalance due to which a person experiences a sudden spike in the levels of prolactin hormone in the body. This high production of prolactin tends to interface with other hormones as well such as estrogen and progesterone. A high levels of these hormones usually results in galactorrhea where women have a milky discharge from breast without pregnancy.
The medications that you consume to treat a certain problem can sometimes give rise to another issue. The case is similar to the spike in prolactin levels. In certain cases a rise in the levels of prolactin can be observed in women due to pharmacological reasons. Taking certain medications can cause an imbalance in the levels of your hormones and result in conditions like Hyperprolactinemia or increased prolactin.
#3. Excessive Nipple Stimulation
You would be surprised to know that the increased levels of prolactin hormone in your body can also be caused due to excessive nipple stimulation. This stimulation of nipples and areola not just increases but also promotes the production of prolactin in the body.
The formation of tumour inside the pituitary gland known as the Prolactinoma can lead to an increase in the levels of prolactin hormone. Prolactinoma is a noncancerous tumor that causes the pituitary gland to produce excessive prolactin that leads to hormonal imbalance and gives rise to various problems.
(This article is based upon a post by Dr. Tanya, MBBS, MSc (Oxon). FRSPH aka Dr. cuterus on her instagram handle)