Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also known as PCOS is becoming a huge epidemic in the western population.
PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women and it is made worse by being overweight, but in and of itself it causes weight gain.
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PCOS is the bane of many women’s existence, and you may be annoyed to know that PCOS can also affect your ability to breastfeed.
After struggling to get pregnant many women presume that once they are, that is the end of PCOS’s hold. But alas, breastfeeding is influenced by this condition as well.
PCOS and Breastfeeding: What you need to know
The good thing is that many women DO successfully breastfeed with PCOS
Breastfeeding is the normal, natural way to feed your baby, and the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are well-documented.
PCOS breastfeeding success
All women, and even those with PCOS, should be encouraged to breastfeed and given the support they need to do so successfully.
It is important to be aware of the potential for PCOS to interfere with your breastfeeding journey, but it is equally important to know that many women with PCOS are able to reach their breastfeeding goals without trouble.
I for one, managed to mostly breastfeed all 3 of my babies with some extra support and some herbal supplements.
PCOS and low milk supply
There are studies dating backs as far as the 1940s, showing a lower than normal amount of glandular tissue in the breasts of women with PCOS.
This impacts both the appearance and functionality of the breasts. Due to this lack of glandular tissue, the breasts of many women with PCOS often have a characteristic appearance: small and cone-shaped, with a wide space between the breasts.
However, some women with PCOS have very large breasts, filled mostly with fatty tissue instead of glandular tissue and yet others have lots of glandular tissue.
It is has been known for decades that PCOS negatively impacts breast development, we still don’t know exactly why this happens and how it impacts the ability of women with PCOS to breastfeed successfully. The presumption is around the high insulin levels during puberty having testosterone effects blocking the growth of feminine traits.
What we do know is that a lack of glandular tissue can result in insufficient breast milk production, which means that about 1/3 of women with PCOS have difficulty initiating and/or maintaining breastfeeding. And about 1/3 again of these women may make little to no milk at all.
High levels of insulin during pregnancy and lactation can also block further breast development and milk production.
Things that might help with low milk supply in women with PCOS
Getting breastfeeding established in the early days after delivery can be challenging, even for moms who don’t have PCOS.
Research shows that the earlier breastfeeding is initiated after delivery, the better the chances are that breastfeeding will be successful. So, for every mom-to-be, setting the stage for successful breastfeeding should begin well before delivery.
During your pregnancy, be sure to talk to your doctor, midwife and/or doula about your intention to breastfeed and work together to develop a breastfeeding plan that clearly states your desire for:
- Immediate skin to skin contact
- Breastfeeding on demand
- Rooming with your baby
- Lactation support services
- Avoiding supplemental formula unless medically necessary
- Avoiding the use of pacifiers
Remember that breast milk production is based on supply and demand. The more frequently you put baby to breast, the more milk your body will produce.
Skin to skin contact between feedings also helps releases oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates breast milk production and the let-down reflex.
Staying well-hydrated and getting as much rest as possible helps as well. As does eating a nutrient dense, low carbohydrate, high fat diet.
If your milk supply is lower than you need it to be, try pumping between feedings.
Rather than supplementing with a bottle, you might consider using a breastfeeding supplementer while nursing your baby.
This is a container that is worn on a cord around your neck, with fine tubing that carries expressed breast milk or formula from the container to the nipple. When the baby sucks at the breast, milk is drawn through the tubing into the baby’s mouth, along with any milk from the breast.
Herbs and Medications to Increase Milk Supply for Women with PCOS
There are some useful herbal supplements that work really well for women suffering with PCOS and low milk supply. These are safe to take while breastfeeding and were personally recommended to me by Dr Jack Newman, a world leading breastfeeding expert.
Fenergreek is a spice that is used a lot in Indian cooking.
Mothers generally notice an increase in production 24-72 hours after starting the herb, but it can take two weeks for others to see a change. Some mothers do not see a change in milk production when taking fenugreek.
Dosages of less than 3500 mg per DAY have been reported to produce no effect in many women. One way reported to determine if you’re taking the correct dosage is to slowly increase the amount of fenugreek until your sweat and urine begin to smell like maple syrup. If you’re having problems with any side effects, discontinue use.
Blessed thistle is a weed that has been used for centuries to aide digestion. It works best for increasing milk supply in PCOS when used with fenergreek. The two of them together are more effective than one by itself.
Take 1000mg 3 times per day.
Domperidone is actually an anti nausea medication that has the side effect of causing lactation. You will need a prescription from your doctor for this medication. It takes about 4 weeks to reach peak effect, and it is safe to take as long as you need to.
Metformin is an insulin sensitizing medication that many women with PCOS are on. If you are on it, you can continue with it while breastfeeding, some women have found that it helps improve their supply. You may also be interested in Myo Inositol – as it has been shown to be more effective than metformin for women with PCOS.
PCOS and over production
Of all the women with PCOS that are breastfeeding
- 1/3 will have no problems what so ever
- 1/3 will have low milk supply, with a further 1/3 of those struggling to make any milk at all
- 1/3 will have an over supply
Now, for women that have poor or no milk supply an over supply may sound like a dream, but don’t be jealous yet – an over supply of milk can be horrific for some mothers to cope with.
Symptoms of over supply are – constantly full, over-tight breasts, a baby that cannot latch without drowning, a baby with reflux or colic, frothy green baby poop and a very soggy bra, top, bed and all the things.
Things that might help with PCOS and Over production of Milk
Feed from only one side, and start from that side again at the next feed.
Because milk production is a feed back loop, the idea is to discourage more production, also to make sure that your baby gets more of the fatty later milk and less of the watery higher sugar fore milk which will help fix their frothy poop.
Try feeding lying down, or even lying on your back
This slows down the milk let down, allowing baby to feed more slowly without drowning
Only pump if you have to
I know it is tempting to pump off all that extra milk, but the more you pump, the more you will make. This is a good thing if you want to donate your milk to other mamas that need it, but if you are trying to slow down production, then avoid pumping.
Try some milk stop tea
Mint and sage are known for drying up milk. Take it cautiously as you don’t want your milk supply going away totally. You could try adding a cup or two of milk stop tea to your daily routine.
Does breastfeeding help PCOS symptoms
Yes, it can.
While a woman is exclusively breastfeeding on demand her cycle is usually ‘turned off’. This means that, like pregnancy, your ovaries are not trying (and often failing) to ovulate, and your body has a chance to heal the cysts that are on your ovaries.
Many women find that when their period does eventually return during or after breastfeeding, that the first few cycles are nice and regular, this is because the deranged PCOS hormones have been controlled somewhat by breastfeeding and pregnancy.
If you struggled to get pregnant the first time, these first couple of cycles are your best bet to getting pregnant easily again a subsequent time.
PCOS and breastfeeding weight gain
It is a fallacy that all women lose weight when they are breastfeeding. Women with PCOS that are breastfeeding may well find that they actually gain quite a bit of weight while breastfeeding, this is very common.
The reason is to do with the underlying insulin resistance and carb cravings. When you are breastfeeding your body becomes more insulin resistant. This is a natural response to preserve your body fat in case of famine.
The problem is it also makes you crave carbs, and in our carb rich society, they are easily available.
When your sugar levels in your blood are high, your insulin levels will follow, and the higher your insulin levels, the more weight you will gain.
PCOS breastfeeding weight loss
The only proven way for women with PCOS to lose weight and reverse their symptoms is to go on a permanent low carbohydrate diet. The easiest way of making this sustainable is to go to the ketogenic diet.
People just doing low carb often find they are tired and suffer from brain fog. On the ketogenic diet your brain can use the ketones as fuel and you will be bright and alert.
The good thing about following the ketogenic diet when you are breastfeeding is that you can eat plenty of calories to keep your milk supply up, while still losing weight.
If you are interested in being guided through the ketogenic lifestyle check out our Keto Kickstarter, or if you want some real accountability with Real Results, join our next Simply Ketogenic Life Bootcamp.