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PCOS and breastfeeding go together like chocolate chips and cookies.
Nothing makes more sense than for a PCOS mother to breastfeed. Seriously, y’all. The health benefits of breastfeeding exactly offset many of the scarier risks associated with PCOS—such as diabetes and cancer.
However, breastfeeding with PCOS felt like another impossible journey when I first began my research as a pregnant first time mom.
I knew that breastfeeding was very important for my baby’s health—and I soon realized it was critical for my own health as well.
Sadly, many sources led me to believe that breastfeeding would be another piece of my womanhood that PCOS would steal from me. That it would be a huge battle to even partially breastfeed my child.
Let me emphasize that. THEY LIED.
Statistics show that only a very small percentage of women with PCOS have struggles with breastfeeding—and an even smaller percentage of those women need to supplement their milk to provide enough nourishment for their babies.
These studies also ignore the elephant in the room.
Every woman with PCOS (actually every woman, but I will save that for another day) should be given all the necessary support to breastfeed if she is at all interested.
Whether it’s exclusively breastfeeding, breastfeeding and supplementing with donor milk or formula, or even helping an adoptive mom induce lactation, the benefits of breastfeeding for PCOS sufferers are undeniable but critically undervalued.
Reasons PCOS and Breastfeeding Should Be a Priority
We all know that maintaining a healthy weight is a huge concern for women with PCOS. Thankfully, breastfeeding can help shed any excess weight gained during pregnancy.
It has been my experience after two pregnancies and exclusively breastfeeding two babies that I tend to drop all but 10 pounds that I gained within the first 6 months postpartum.
I then typically end up weighing less than I did pre-pregnancy by the time my baby is a little over a year.
Thanks to PCOS, we are at an increased risk of endometrial cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. Oh the joys.
The good news is that breastfeeding protects use from all of these diseases.
Perhaps the best known health risk associated with PCOS other than obesity, diabetes is a huge concern for those of us with the disease. However, the simple choice to breastfeed reduces our risk for diabetes by a whopping 39-86%!
Breastfeeding is about more than feeding your baby. It is about more than the physical health benefits to mother or child. Breastfeeding is a bonding experience that promotes attachment and increases mental health in both mom and baby.
Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression—and those who already suffer from depression benefit from the increased sleep (compared to formula feeding mothers) and lactation hormones breastfeeding provides.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Baby
- immune system
- other illness
- diabetes prevention
- overweight prevention
- dental health
- reflux is less worrisome
- cancer prevention
- asthma prevention
- allergies prevention
- SIDS prevention
- brain development
- better nutrition
I’d like to reiterate the lifelong protective benefit breastfeeding provides children against becoming overweight and developing diabetes. With PCOS we know that our genetics predispose us and our off-spring to obesity and diabetes.
As hard as most of us have worked to have our children I think we are all extra careful with their health and safety. Breastfeeding is one of the simplest choices you can make to give them better health.
Breastfeeding concerns for women with PCOS
PCOS does come with some potential breastfeeding issues; however, as I mentioned before, the overwhelming majority of women with PCOS are able to successfully breastfeed exclusively. Some women will struggle with true undersupply and need to supplement with donor milk or formula. Other women may face the opposite issue of oversupply. Many women will simply face issues due to poor breastfeeding advice and support.
Knowing best practices when it comes to breastfeeding is the number 1 way to be successful. It’s not all that likely that PCOS will be the cause of your breastfeeding struggles, but it’s entirely possible your birth experience (or even your mother) will undermine your efforts.
If you’re pregnant or new to breastfeeding, it can be extremely beneficial to find good local support such as La Leche League groups to help you overcome any obstacles you encounter (and to just feel like you belong!). It can also be helpful to find like-minded mommy groups online to voice concerns and frustrations.
Educating yourself ahead of time and establishing a strong support system can make a huge difference in your breastfeeding experience!
Is it really undersupply?
Before you decide you have a supply issue, educate yourself on true signs of a breastfeeding problem. Contrary to popular belief, babies wanting to nurse frequently, baby’s fussiness, not being able to pump much (or any) milk, or even slow weight gain do not necessarily indicate a milk supply issue.
The real indicators of whether or not a baby is getting enough milk at the breast are diaper counts (both the number of wet and dirty diapers) combined with baby’s growth and overall health.
If your baby isn’t hitting the right numbers of wet and dirty diapers and isn’t growing well, then undersupply is a possibility. However, it may actually be poor breastfeeding management to blame.
Causes of Undersupply
The most common cause of undersupply is breastfeeding being managed poorly.
Ideally, a baby is placed directly skin-to-skin with the mother following birth and allowed to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after birth.
After this all feeding cues should be responded to promptly and baby should be fed very frequently on demand. The more often a baby is brought to the breast, particularly in the first days and weeks after birth, the stronger a mother’s milk production will be for the long-term.
In a nutshell, a breastfed baby cannot be over fed. Nurse your baby early and often for optimal breastfeeding success.
A true breastfeeding concern for women with PCOS is insufficient glandular tissue. Basically, some women with PCOS have underdeveloped breast tissue that actually does not contain everything needed to produce enough milk for their baby.
While there are physical characteristics that can indicate a mother may struggle with IGT issues, they are not definitive.
I am living proof that the physical markers of insufficient glandular tissue are not always proof it exists within the woman. I have every single indication of the “fatty” presentation for IGT—but I’ve exclusively breastfed two children and dealt with oversupply both times!
Generally, women with IGT will need to supplement their milk production with donor milk (you may be surprised by how willing breastfeeding mothers are to help one another by pumping milk!) or formula. Ideally, an supplemental nursing system (SNS) is implemented to maintain mother’s existing milk supply and to support feeding baby at the breast.
Since breastmilk production is primarily hormonal in the first few weeks, it makes sense that the hormone issues common with PCOS may interfere with milk production.
Most women with PCOS have insulin resistance and many develop gestational diabetes. Research suggests that problems with insulin sensitivity and production can interfere with milk production for PCOS and breastfeeding mothers.
Solutions for undersupply
As mentioned previously, the main weapon you have against undersupply is proper breastfeeding initiation and management. Even if you end up with a condition that causes true undersupply, nursing frequently at the breast with an SNS will allow you to reach your breastfeeding goals.
Is it really oversupply?
After I had my first daughter I voiced my concerns about breastfeeding with PCOS to the IBCLCs (highly educated lactation consultants) on staff at the hospital. Sadly, they sent me home with the strong impression I would not be able to produce enough milk on my own.
They instructed me to feed my daughter as frequently as I could and to use a breastpump in between feedings in order to have my best chances at establishing my milk supply. They also told me I should cup feed my baby any milk I was able to express to make sure she was getting enough.
Well, I followed their advice and made myself crazy between my frantic anxiety to establish my milk supply, my sore nipples from learning to breastfeed a newborn and pump milk, lack of sleep, and baby who absolutely refused any milk that didn’t come directly from the tap.
And I ended up with a problem I never expected with PCOS and breastfeeding.
While I understand I was “lucky” to have abundant milk production, it does create its own issues. Like a really fussy baby who is never full and has bad poop.
Once I understood the issue was overactive letdown (OAL) and oversupply, I was able to change some of the things I was doing and our lives calmed down a ton.
As mentioned previously, breastmilk production is established in the early weeks by demand. The more often the nipples are stimulated and the breasts are emptied, the more milk your body will try to make.
Additionally, some women with PCOS have an abundance of prolactin—one of the main ingredients for breastmilk production.
Another cause of oversupply can actually be a poor latch caused by positioning or potentially a tongue tie or lip tie in baby’s mouth. Basically, a poor latch causes baby to nurse longer and more frequently because they are not able to remove milk from the breast as efficiently.
In my case (obviously) my breasts were overstimulated by my efforts to prevent low supply and my daughter had tongue and lip ties that caused a very shallow latch between my large breasts and her teensy newborn mouth. My body thought it needed to make enough milk for a whole army.
I didn’t discover my daughter’s ties until we were well into our breastfeeding relationship (14 months old) and had it figured out despite them. However, learning techniques for a better latch as well as implementing a different style of feeding on demand helped us both thrive.
Solutions for Oversupply
Oversupply needs to be managed very carefully. Sometimes it occurs because baby is triggering more milk production very intentionally to prepare for a growth spurt or mental leap.
Checking latch and positioning and considering reducing or eliminating pumping sessions should be the first recourse to solving oversupply issues. If a tongue or lip tie is suspected it can be a good idea to have that evaluated by an expert and revised if you decide it is necessary.
In my case, I needed to switch to block feeding to give my breasts the message to calm down with the milk production, but that is a decision that needs to be made very carefully and with acute attention to its effects. You do not want to accidentally go from an oversupply situation to an undersupply issue.
Regardless of whether you face issues breastfeeding with PCOS, all nursing moms benefit from having a comfortable area to breastfeed.
Some items that make breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience, especially in the early postpartum days are:
Save yourself from developing “nursing neck” with a breastfeeding pillow that helps you maintain a comfortable posture. I love the My Brest Friend pillow because it actually snaps on with an adjustable waist, so you don’t have to disturb baby as much if you need to stand up—and you have more flexibility in your own seating arrangements. Being comfortable is a key component to successfully breastfeeding for the long haul!
It is inevitable that as soon as you get comfy and your brand new baby gets latched that either you are going to need a snack or baby is going to need a clean diaper. I’m pretty sure it should be considered a law of nature. Having a bag with all of your essentials within easy reach can make a huge difference in your ability to simply relax and enjoy breastfeeding your baby.
I specify a bottle with a straw because it makes it that much easier to keep yourself hydrated regardless of which position you end up comfortably nursing in. You are going to get thirsty. So very thirsty!
As much as I love cooing over my new baby’s sweet face and little hands and feet, there’s only so long I can sit there before I need some form of entertainment. And I’m not going to feel guilty about that.
Especially in the early days of breastfeeding I am sitting there hours per day, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to read a good book or watch a show. Having a tablet with a case that makes it easy to use with one hand has been a huge sanity-saver for me!
I can’t begin to count how many books I have read while breastfeeding since my first daughter was born. I’m sure the count is literally approaching a thousand or more by now. E-books have been pretty much the best thing ever for my breastfeeding goals.
Because Netflix (or Hulu or Prime) and chill without guilt, yo. Seriously, take care of yourself too. Do things you enjoy. Like binge-watching the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I won’t judge.
If you don’t have a comfy spot to camp out and breastfeed you’re going to enjoy it a lot less. Trust me on this one. Find a chair or sofa that you can be completely comfortable in for extended periods of time. You’ll thank yourself later!
Having a small nightlight can really improve the experience of night-time feeds. You don’t want to wake yourself and your baby all the way up with a bright lamp, but you might need a little extra light while you’re getting the hang of breastfeeding (or for those 3am diaper changes).
Hands-down, co-sleeping is the smartest decision I made to ensure I was successful with breastfeeding. Not having to get up out of the comfort of my bed to tend to my baby was the biggest relief. Seriously.
Your boobs may leak, especially in the first few weeks or months. These nursing pads are amazing. They’re super soft and discreet under clothes and crazy absorbent. I love them.
If you are concerned about establishing and maintaining your milk supply when it comes to PCOS and breastfeeding, it’s important to have a strong and reliable pump.
Even if you don’t have supply concerns, it’s a good idea to have a bit of milk stashed in the freezer for emergencies (I ended up in the hospital when my first daughter was 2 months old!)—or just to give yourself a little freedom to run to Target solo!
If you do pump your milk, you’re going to want to make sure the bottle you use to feed your baby is trustworthy. I am always concerned about potential hormone disruption in my children from things like plastic eating implements. I try to research any products they use and I choose materials like glass (like these bottles) whenever I can.
No matter where you are in your journey with PCOS and breastfeeding,
I hope you see how important it really is. Breastfeeding is a commitment. It’s not for everyone, and not everyone can produce enough milk on their own.
However, it’s worth fighting for.
Your health is worth it. So is your child’s.
If you’re struggling with your PCOS diagnosis, I hope you’ll consider joining the PCOS Take Action Challenge!
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What breastfeeding hurdles have you faced or do you worry about with PCOS and breastfeeding? I can’t wait to hear your story in the comments!
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