Witch’s Milk! Should I do something about it?

This is a common refrain and the common practice is to express the milk out by squeezing the baby’s breasts as it is considered to be bad for the baby. This is mostly done by the दाई (the maid who looks after and massages and bathes the baby).

Breast abscess following massage
Large breast abscess whose ‘witch’s’ milk was being expressed

Why do baby’s breasts secrete ‘witch’s milk’?

This is because of the effect of maternal hormones (that are at a high level in the pregnant female who is about to deliver), that then transmitted through the placenta and act on the baby’s breasts, causing them to enlarge and to produce milk). This can occur in both girls and boys. This usually subsides on its own within two weeks without any detrimental effect to the baby.

Why is it called witch’s milk?

It was believed that the witches stole the milk from unwatched babies, while they were asleep and it was a source of nourishment to them.

Why do elders traditionally ask us to remove this milk?

It was a way of keeping the witch’s at bay by denying them their nourishment. Also in some cultures, it was believed that expressing the milk would lead to a shapelier breast!

So, should I express this milk? I know of many who have done so with no problems?

Please do not do so! At best, it actually prolongs both the breast swelling and the milky discharge that occurs and at worst, there might be injury and damage with some bacteria entering beneath the skin and causing infection that may lead to abscess formation. Once an abscess forms, it requires to be drained to remove the collection of pus, as it is painful, may cause fever and even spread to other parts of the body.

My child already has a swelling in the breasts! Is it infected?

Just a swelling does not indicate infection. If this is associated with redness locally, and if it is tender or if the child is irritable and cranky, or if the child has fever, then it is possible that the swelling may be infected. Please contact your pediatric surgeon immediately.




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