In his quest to test "an obscure secret of biology," Michael Thomsen starts by getting biblical. He quotes Numbers 11:12—"Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child"—as a sort of introduction to his unusual personal challenge: to see if a man can lactate. Thomsen writes that male lactation has been observed in fruit bats, goats, and guinea pigs; so why not humans? And he was irked that the assumption that men can't breastfeed has been used in the courtroom as an argument against gay marriage. So the 33-year-old, writing for Slate, set out to produce some milk.
First, a science lesson: A hormone called prolactin is what causes the breast tissue of both men and women to lactate. Thomsen could, in theory, take a drug to stimulate his body's production of it, but he was unsure of both the side effect and his chances of getting a doctor to prescribe it to him. So he decided to try a nipple-based method: using a manual breast pump, which "ideally involves pumping each breast every three hours around the clock," while downing an "organic lactation booster from Whole Foods." But after seven monotonous weeks in which he spent hours pumping without producing a drop, Thomsen realized what he was missing: the baby. "For all our assumptions about breastfeeding, the one abiding truth is that it exists to nourish and comfort new life. The walls of gender could be broken down, but without a child to benefit, what was the point?" (Read more breastfeeding stories.)