By witch’s milk, I’m not talking about milk made by a witch in an awful coven! It is about infants, but why is it called “witch’s milk”?

The term witch’s milk sounds both scary and intriguing. It is also quite deceptive because it reads as though it’s referring to milk made by a witch.

Imagine if witches had their own unique type of milk, oh boy!

It refers to the milky substance that comes out from a newborn’s nipples. But why does this happen? How on earth are babies able to produce actual breast milk? And most importantly, should you be worried that your baby has breastmilk?

If the term witch’s milk bothers you, you might want to stick with its more scientific terms “neonatal milk” or “newborn galactorrhea” which are more descriptive.

Take a peek…

Is the Witch’s Milk Phenomenon Normal?

Newborn galactorrhea is not an anomaly, and that explains why much researches have not been conducted on it in recent times.

Though it isn’t a common phenomenon, only about 5% of newborns can produce breastmilk. But just because it isn’t common doesn’t mean it’s abnormal. It’s normal.

It’s pretty much the same way single births are more common than multiple births, and yet multiple births are as normal as single births!

Neonatal milk is known as witch’s milk because it was believed that witches squeezed out the milk from these babies’ breasts and used the milk for, you know, their potions or whatever it is witches do – nourishment for familiar spirits.

As far as we can tell, that’s just a folktale. However, to prevent witches from stealing this milk, the mother of the baby resulted in squeezing the milk out herself and discarding them away. This led to more problems – just keep reading!

Neonatal milk is milk that leaks from the nipples of a newborn baby. It occurs in both baby boys and girls. A baby whose nipple can secrete milk usually has an enlarged breast – their breasts aren’t flat.

PS: Galactorrhea happens to adults as well, even in men.

Witch’s milk – why does it happen?

It usually happens to full-term babies, not pre-term babies. What happens is that while the baby is still in the womb, they are exposed to hormones in the maternal bloodstream via the placenta.

These hormones include oestrogen and prolactin. After birth, the effect of these maternal hormones kick in and the baby can secrete milk.

This baby-milking state usually lasts for about 2 weeks, and by the time your baby is two months old, it would have been all gone. Because by then, the level of maternal hormones would have significantly reduced.

However, this transfer of transplacental maternal hormones isn’t the only reason why neonatal galactorrhea occurs.

Other causes of neonatal galactorrhea:

  1. Hyperprolactinemia – high levels of prolactin in the blood
  2. A very high amount of oestrogen in your breastmilk – this is after birth during breastfeeding but weaning is discouraged (temporary or permanent)
  3. Hypothyroidism – low levels of the thyroid hormones
  4. Cancer – this is extremely very rare

When should your baby see the doctor?

The phenomenon does not require any treatment, since it’s normal and would eventually go away after a few weeks.

But if it persists after two months, then you might want to check in with your doctor. Another reason why treatment might be necessary is if the discharge is suspicious or if the region is somewhat inflamed, red, or tender.

How about a bloody milky discharge?

It’s not uncommon to see blood from the nipples, thus this is usually harmless. But when this bloody discharge only occurs in one nipple, then it should be investigated by the doctor.

When worried, check in with a doctor for reassurance. Also, treatment is definitely necessary if the cause is as a result of hypothyroidism or cancer, but this is most likely never the case.

Should Baby’s Breasts Be Squeezed to Express the Milk?

No. It shouldn’t. This practice was first discouraged by doctors during the era of the “witch’s milk ‘syndrome’” because they realized that it led to complications.

Squeezing (or any form of stimulation) the breasts or nipple to express the milk exerts unwanted pressure on the breasts or nipple. It can irritate the tissues of the breast, as well as prolong the milk production. It also causes the formation of abscesses or mastitis.

  1. An abscess is an inflamed tissue, the inflammation is painful and also filled with pus.
  2. The presence of infant mastitis indicates that the breast tissue has been infected. How? When you squeeze out the milk, you expose the milk glands to bacteria. This happens in infants who are at least two months old. It’s treated with antibiotics.

Stay away from squeezing, massaging, or manipulating the breasts/nipples in any manner.

Final note

Though the witch’s milk phenomenon doesn’t hang around for long, the breast buds in babies (or newborn breast lump) can stay till childhood.

Galactorrhea in newborns occurs because maternal hormones get into the baby’s bloodstream, and these hormones are responsible for the enlarged breasts in babies and the secretion of the milk as well.

You really shouldn’t be worried if your baby can secrete a few drops of breastmilk! Also, don’t be tempted to squeeze the milk out.

Naga Odigie

When I'm not obsessing about the wonders and dynamics of the human brain, I'm a secondary caregiver and a biomedical scientist roaming the city of Benin.


Samuel Ifeanyi · February 7, 2021 at 10:11 am

This is like the most interesting thing I’ve read this month… No, this year. I had no idea something like this existed, lol! Would have freaked out if I noticed it in a baby myself.

Someone told me people massage the baby’s breasts with hot water to stop it. Is this harmful?

    Naga Odigie · February 7, 2021 at 10:19 pm

    So happy to hear this! Glad you enjoyed it.

Comments are closed.