Breastfeeding and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Many mothers with PCOS have no breastfeeding problems, but recent studies have revealed that moms with PCOS are at greater risk of inadequate milk supply. On the other hand, approximately a third of women with PCOS report oversupply problems (maybe this is linked to hyperprolactinemia –higher prolactin levels –occurring in around 20% of PCOS-mothers).
What is polycystic ovarian syndrome?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that affects 5% to 10% of women of reproductive age. PCOS may include problems with fertility, acne, obesity, excess hair growth and increased risk of type 2 diabetes (1).
Does PCOS affect milk supply?
There has been little research on PCOS in connection with breastfeeding. A probable link between PCOS and low milk supply was originally presented in a 2000 case study of 3 mothers with PCOS who also had low milk supply (2). It is believed that PCOS could potentially interfere with the hormones needed for the breast to develop milk-producing tissue (3).
In 2008, a study of 36 mothers with PCOS and 99 mothers without PCOS concluded that mothers with PCOS appear to have a reduced breastfeeding rate in the early postnatal period as compared to mothers without PCOS. However, by 3 months, breastfeeding levels were equivalent between women with and without PCOS. The researchers in this study also found a possible adverse connection between the levels of 'pre-androgen' hormones in mothers with PCOS and breastfeeding rates. This may provide a feasible reason why some women with PCOS have issues with poor production of milk.
It is essential to understand, however, that many women with PCOS have no issue with successful milk production and breastfeeding (2). More trials are required before any link between PCOS and breastfeeding can be mentioned with confidence.
Should I breastfeed with PCOS?
Yes. Women with PCOS have an elevated risk later on in life, of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, babies born to PCOS mothers have an increased genetic risk for type 2 diabetes development. Because breastfeeding helps protect a mother and her baby from developing type 2 diabetes later in life, breastfeeding is particularly important for a mother with PCOS (3).
(1) Shannon M, Wang Y 2012, Polycystic ovary syndrome: a common but often unrecognized condition. J Midwifery Womens Health 57(3):221-30.
(2) Marasco L, Marmet C, Shell E 2000, Polycystic ovary syndrome: a connection to insufficient milk supply? J Hum Lact 16(2):143-8.
(3) Nesmith H 2006 (November), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Lactation. Topics In Breastfeeding Set XVIII, Lactation Resource Centre.