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I'm not pregnant! Why do I have breast milk?

Monday, February 07, 2011

WITH breast cancer such a great concern, many women get worried whenever they find any form of abnormality in their breasts, and rightly so. One of the concerns is milk or fluid coming from the nipple despite her not being pregnant.

Nipple discharge affects many women who are neither pregnant nor breastfeeding but this does not always indicate any serious problem. In fact, some young women may experience nipple discharge without any cause for concern. On the other hand, persistent discharge in older women may be a sign of an underlying condition.

According to Professor Horace Fletcher, gynaecologist and obstetrician at the University Hospital of the West Indies, excess squeezing of the breast can result in discharge.

"Milky discharge may occur if recent breastfeeding or pregnancy occurred," Professor Fletcher said. "But excess squeezing of the breast can also lead to a milky or clear discharge."

If there is a nipple discharge, women should observe the secretion as it may be an indication of its cause.

* Milky — Breast milk production in women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding could be due to elevated hormonal levels, specifically prolactin. This is known as galactorrhea.

* Clear and sticky — If the discharge is clear and sticky, it may be a sign of inflammation or infection.

* Bloody — This may be a sign of severe trauma, infection or worse yet, cancer.

* Mucus — If the mucus from the breast is yellow or brown and mixed with blood, and if it is accompanied by pain in the breast, she may be suffering from a severe infection.

Discharge may occur from one or both breasts and could be accompanied by breast tenderness, breast pain, swollen breasts, breast lumps, fever and irregular menstrual cycle.

Professor Fletcher warned that women experiencing breast discharge should visit their doctors for a proper evaluation.

"Coloured discharges, especially bloody, are sinister and must be evaluated," he said.

— Donna Hussey-Whyte

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