Breastfeeding with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

By Wendy Eson, IBCLC

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 10-15 percent of the female population, often with an onset in puberty and leading into the childbearing years. It is rarely present in post-menopausal women, however, it tends to run in families.

For women in their childbearing years, PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Symptoms of PCOS include infrequent or irregular periods, increased hair growth on the face, chest and back, acne and ovarian cysts. Women with PCOS often present with signs of virility, or male-like qualities (male pattern hair loss, deep voice.) This is due to an excess amount of the male hormone androgen.

A diagnosis is made from a combination of the above symptoms, certain blood tests and pelvic or vaginal ultrasounds. Blood work done to help diagnose PCOS checks for levels of estrogen, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone, prolactin levels and glucose levels. Other diagnostic tests include vaginal ultrasounds to detect fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries (ovarian cysts.) Additionally, women with PCOS may have insulin resistance, resulting in higher levels of glucose, and possibly diabetes.

Birth control pills often help control the symptoms of PCOS. Women who want to become pregnant, may find help conceiving with the insulin-sensitizing drug metformin and clomephine (Clomid), which stimulates the ovaries to release an egg.

How Does PCOS Impact Breastfeeding?

PCOS can often result in a decreased milk supply. Increased levels of androgen hormone is thought to interfere with prolactin (the milk making hormone) reaching receptor sites in the breast. Conversely, decreased levels of estrogen during puberty can impact breast tissue development.

However, a good majority of women with PCOS produce more than enough milk to exclusively breastfeed their babies. As with any other condition, PCOS should be evaluated and monitored on an individual basis. Women with PCOS who desire to breastfeed should be evaluated and supported according to their individual needs.

Since major health risks are associated with PCOS (metabolic syndrome, heart disease, obesity, potential for type II diabetes and hypertension), early diagnosis is key. Early treatment may help with infertility and increase the likelihood of having good milk production after the baby is born.

Wendy Eson is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at our Squirrel Hill office.