The journey to motherhood is an exciting and beautiful process. However, that does not mean that it is not without its ups and downs. Many women face a variety of challenges throughout pregnancy and even after giving birth.
However, as mums-to-be, women face these obstacles head on and do what they can to give their babies the very best. One such goal for many mums is to be able to breastfeed their babies for six months or even much longer if possible.
Breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as the exclusive source of nutrition for infants up to six months after birth. But, that being said, it is not always easy or even possible for some women. Some women struggle with milk supply while some have a host of health concerns to contend with after giving birth such as increased blood pressure or gestational diabetes. While these may or may not directly affect breastfeeding, they can affect the mother’s quality of life (stress, lack of sleep, etc), which can indirectly affect her breastfeeding journey.
As a woman with PCOS, you may have already encountered problems during your fertility and pregnancy journey. Women diagnosed with PCOS often face challenges trying to conceive.
With the fertility obstacle already often difficult to overcome it hardly seems fair that breastfeeding for women with PCOS can be challenging as well. But, never fear, while PCOS may present breastfeeding issues it is not impossible for (most) mothers with PCOS to breastfeed their babies. It might just be a matter of enhancing your diet and incorporating best breastfeeding practices.
So, if you want to breastfeed your little one, there are ways to achieve PCOS breastfeeding success!
PCOS factors that may impact breastfeeding
To determine how best to manage PCOS when breastfeeding it is important to understand how PCOS can potentially impact the breastfeeding journey. While there aren’t currently many studies on PCOS and breastfeeding there have been some that show how various PCOS factors can adversely affect initiating and maintaining breastfeeding and the production of milk.
Let me share a few of them with you.
In a case study in 2000, a potential connection was made between PCOS and low milk supply. The connection implied that PCOS may interfere with the hormones required for the breast to produce milk-making tissue thus making breastfeeding challenging to start and even more challenging to maintain. Additional findings from the study conducted by Lisa Marasco include:
- Poorer breast tissue development during puberty and pregnancy. Fewer menstrual cycles in early puberty may lead to low oestrogen, which, in turn, affected the development of mammary tissue, which is needed to support breastfeeding.
- Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgen hormones which can interfere with the hormones prolactin reaching its receptors. This may affect breastfeeding as the main hormones involved in lactation include prolactin and oxytocin.
- In addition to the above, the formation of limited prolactin receptors in pregnancy may also limit milk production.
- Oestrogen is known to inhibit lactation, especially the onset of breastfeeding. This is why contraceptive pills are not the recommended birth control method for breastfeeding mothers. Women with PCOS have an oestrogen imbalance and their high levels of oestrogen could inhibit lactation in the early days after delivery.
- Insulin, along with prolactin and cortisol, plays an important role in lactation. PCOS-related insulin resistance can significantly affect breast growth and milk synthesis.
These are some of the obstacles that could arise in new mothers with PCOS. While it is important to be aware of the potential obstacles PCOS presents to breastfeeding, please don’t forget that it is not impossible and many women with PCOS have been able to successfully achieve their breastfeeding goals.
What can you do to improve PCOS breastfeeding success?
Knowledge is important and knowing the PCOS factors that could negatively impact on breastfeeding puts you in a better position to prepare for these potential problems early on. Here are a few tips that can help you on your PCOS breastfeeding journey.
- Manage your PCOS symptoms. Firstly, as with anything else, it is important to discuss all your health issues with your healthcare provider as early as possible. They will be able to help you further and deduce, based on your overall PCOS diagnosis, what hurdles you might face. Managing your PCOS symptoms can be an important step to ensuring they don’t stop you from breastfeeding.
- Follow a healthy diet and avoid too much sugar. A healthy diet is essential in breastfeeding so be sure to consume sufficient calories — an extra 400-500 calories a day may be needed to help keep up milk supply. With PCOS, improving insulin resistance is important for hormonal balance. When insulin blood levels increase there follows an increase in androgen hormones, which can impact breast development and milk synthesis. Try to avoid too much sugar, which can cause insulin spikes.
- Optimise best practices for breastfeeding as early as possible. While PCOS can present challenges, it is important to remain positive and implement best breastfeeding practices as early as possible. These include the following steps right after giving birth:
- Immediate skin-to-skin contact after delivery.
- Feed your baby soon after birth, preferably in the first hour.
- Breastfeed on demand and round the clock. Room with your baby, if possible, at the hospital and explore bed sharing when you go home. Studies have shown that mothers who bed share with their infants have increased breastfeeding throughout the night, which can help increase supply early on.
- If your baby has difficulty attaching to the breast, hand express to provide colostrum for them.
- Avoid using dummies (pacifiers) or supplemental formula feeding, unless necessary.
- Ask for help if you need it! Breastfeeding is a skill and it is easier for some and harder for others. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants for help, especially in the beginning.
These tips are for immediately following birth. There are several best breastfeeding practices you can maintain throughout the first six months with your infant to help you and your baby get the hang of things and to help establish milk supply. The Australian Breastfeeding Association provides good direction. Find out more here.
Alongside a balanced diet, there are also some natural breastfeeding galactagogues containing supplements and vegetables that help you increase and maintain your breast milk supply. Some of these include:
- Fenugreek – Fenugreek is a seed that’s been used to increase milk production for years. This herb contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals similar to the oestrogen hormone. Fenugreek can be found in a variety of galactagogues like maternity teas, which have shown to help increase breast milk supply.
- Ginger – Nursing mothers who experience low milk production postpartum may consider ginger. Ginger is a food with many health benefits. Studies have shown that mothers who took ginger immediately postpartum had increased milk supply when compared to mothers who did not.
- Spinach – There are many reasons why milk supply might dwindle. One of the reasons could be postpartum anaemia. Anaemic mothers reported a higher level of milk supply insufficiency. To help combat anaemia, you can eat foods rich in iron and calcium, such as spinach. Spinach contains calcium, Vitamin A, B9, E, C, beta-carotene, and iron. Not only will spinach help prevent anaemia, but it’s good for the immune system too.
PCOS may present challenges to mothers who wish to breastfeed, but that does not mean that breastfeeding success is not attainable. Knowledge of the potential obstacles and proper management of PCOS symptoms coupled with best breastfeeding practices, a balanced diet, and nutritional supplements can help you to successfully achieve your breastfeeding goals.
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iv. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/089033440001600211 – Marasco L, Marmet C, Shell E 2000, Polycystic ovary syndrome: a connection to insufficient milk supply? J Hum Lact 16(2):143-8.
ix. Canan Turkyılmaz, Esra Onal, Ibrahim Murat Hirfanoglu, Ozden Turan, Esin Koç, Ebru Ergenekon, and Yıldız Atalay. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. February 2011, 17(2): 139-142. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2010.0090
x. Paritakul Panwara, Ruangrongmorakot Kasem, Laosooksathit Wipada, Suksamarnwong Maysita, and Puapornpong Pawin. Breastfeeding Medicine. September 2016, 11(7): 361-365. https://doi.org/10.1089/bfm.2016.0073