PCOS & Breastfeeding Issues
Posted by Allie on 6th August 2017
I came across a research article on potential milk supply issues that women with PCOS may experience when I was on maternity leave and breastfeeding my newborn, which felt ironic. It was the first time I’d heard about the link and my midwife and health visitors were all aware of my medical history. PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility and I’ve found that it’s the difficulties getting pregnant in the first place that tend to be highlighted rather than potential post-natal issues. On a side note, this article is not intended to contribute to any breastfeeding versus formula feeding debates and we all need to make informed decisions that are right for our own individual situation.
What is the link between PCOS and breastfeeding issues?
The correlation between breastfeeding problems and PCOS is not yet confirmed. It’s been proposed that some women with PCOS may experience difficulties with breastfeeding and producing an adequate amount of milk.
Insulin, estrogen and progesterone are hormones which play a role in milk secretion and development of breast tissue. It’s thought that the high levels of androgens and estrogen, low progesterone, and insulin resistance common in the condition may contribute to problems with lactation, the secretion of milk by the mammary glands (1).
The milk secretory cells develop only during pregnancy and the growth of mammary glands in the breasts during pregnant require both estrogen and progesterone. It’s also been speculated that, due to hormone imbalances, women with PCOS may have insufficient mammary tissue to prepare for lactation (3). A study published in 2012 found that women with PCOS whose breasts had not increased in size during pregnancy breastfed for shorter period of time than those with breast size increment due to a reported shortage of milk (2).
Insulin is also believed to play a key role in lactation. As women with PCOS can be insulin resistant, it has been proposed that it could be possible that insulin resistance could reduce milk production (1).Insulin is also believed to play a key role in lactation. As women with PCOS can be insulin resistant (LINK), it has been proposed that it could be possible that insulin resistance could reduce milk production (1).
Do all women with PCOS experience difficulties breastfeeding?
No, many women with PCOS breastfeed successfully. Further research is needed to confirm the possible link between PCOS and breastfeeding difficulties.
What help is available for women with PCOS who experience difficulties and want to breastfeed?
There is absolutely no shame with needing support or advice with breastfeeding – it’s nice to think we should just know how to do it but that’s not always the case. There is lots of information and support available to help. If you have any questions or concerns regarding breastfeeding, you can speak with your midwife or health visitor.
There are also many online resources and organisations that provide breastfeeding support. La Leche League has trained counsellors and can provide support online, on the telephone, at meetings and via social media. The National Breastfeeding Helpline in the UK offers confidential breastfeeding support and information as well as live online support. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers is a voluntary organisation also offers a range of information and support services.
You may find it useful to speak with other mothers who have been through similar experiences. You can find trained breastfeeding support volunteers, experts and clinics in some local children’s centres in the UK - ask your midwife or health visitor for more information.
Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.
1: L. Marasco, C. Marmet & E. Shell (2000) Polycystic ovary syndrome: a connection to insufficient milk supply? Journal of Human Lactation. 16(2): 143-8.
2: E. Vanky et al (2012) Breast size increment during pregnancy and breastfeeding in mothers with polycystic ovary syndrome: a follow-up study of a randomised controlled trial on metformin versus placebo. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 119(11): 1403-9.
3: D.A. Waldocks (Summer 2008) Breastfeeding case study. Women’s Health Report.