It's the suckle that dare not speak its name. In worldwide Google searches, "my husband wants me to breastfeed him" is a more popular search term than "my husband wants to separate" and "my husband wants a baby" combined.
Um, what? Seth Stephens-Davidowitz originally reported these numbers in the New York Times, and most of that breastfeeding search traffic is coming from India. While that doesn't necessarily mean that breastmilk is becoming a delicacy in India, it does suggest a lot of interest. And it begs the question: is this really a thing?
Absolutely, says Dr. Wendy Walsh, a relationship expert and self-described "dairy queen" who nursed each of her children until they were 3. "Every breastfeeding mother I ever knew said their husband asked to drink it,” she says adding that the father of her child also asked to nurse once in a while.
Drinking human breast milk is enough of a niche fetish that there's even a whole bar in Japan dedicated to it, where men can either buy shots of milk or get it straight from the nipple. Corky Harvey, who co-founded the Pump Station and Nurtery in Santa Monica, CA, said that when she asked nursing mothers whether their husbands ever tried to breastfeed, two women said they had heard of friends getting this request from their husbands. And one woman said she had been at a party where a man came up and asked if her husband like to "suckle on those breasts."
"I think with a lot of men, there’s just a curiosity of what it tastes like, and what it would be like to nurse," said Wendy Haldeman, who co-founded the Pump Station with Harvey. "Certainly men suck on nipples during sex, so they’re gonna get milk."
But husband breastfeeding can be as much about utility as curiosity. "If the milk is backed up in the breast, and it’s very painful, and sometimes the baby can’t get it out and the pump can’t get it out," she says. "And there have been times when the dads have been successful at clearing the blockage.” She added that the fathers' teeth sometimes make this a bit complicated.
None of the lactation experts or OB-GYNs we spoke to said they had noticed a real adult breastfeeding trend in the United States, but they also weren't particularly surprised to hear that it was a common search query.
"If you put women who are nursing together with partners who are having sex, then it’s bound to happen," said Felina Rakowski-Gallagher, founder and president of the Upper Breast Side lactation center in New York City. "And if it's bound to happen and there are no negative consequences, maybe it’s something that Mother Nature intended."
But if asked, most American men say they're definitely not into drinking milk directly from their wife's breast. George Silva, a 42-year old banker from Caracas, Venezuela told me he "never considered" tasting his wife's milk while she was nursing their two children, now 8 and 5. "I never heard of a man who wanted to try it," his wife Lisa said.
"I had no urge whatsoever," said Anthony, a 43-year-old New York wine salesman who asked that his last name not be used. "And there was tons of it."
Perhaps husband breastfeeding is a global phenomenon that hasn't caught on in the United States yet. "It’s happening around the world, not just in India, but in China and Europe" said Dr. Diane Spatz, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who also works at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Men think, 'oh there are all these health benefits of human milk, so if I’m a man, and I want to make myself healthier, then this is what I’m gonna do,'" she said, adding that the effects of breast milk on adults have not been extensively studied.
And obviously there's a difference between an occasional sip and regular feeding. "My concern about it is that if this is happening, then the baby might not be getting access to the mom’s own milk," says Spatz.
But even if this is happening in India, as the search numbers suggest, Indian women are hardly nursing their husbands in the streets. "This is completely new to me, I don't see that as a common phenomenon in India" said Effath Yasmin, a Lactation Consultant who runs Nourish & Nurture Lactation Care & Parenting Education in Mumbai, India. "But we’re from a very conservative culture and women perhaps would not approach professionals to discuss about this. That could be why they’re maybe looking for it on the internet."
Some experts say that adult breastfeeding might also have an element of jealousy to it, and that the breastmilk fetish might come from the fact that the breast's sexual and nutritional functions are getting confused. "The breast has a day job and a night job," Dr. Walsh says. "The breast used to be the man’s play-toy, and suddenly the baby is coming in and playing with daddy’s favorite play-toy."
"Is it bad?" she asked. "Who cares?"