Congratulations on your new baby! If you’re a new mom, you’re most likely having visitors, taking phone calls from excited friends and relatives, and learning how to bond and care for your newborn. If you’ve chosen to breastfeed your baby, you face a unique set of challenges. And if you are among the 1 in 10 women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you may have even more questions about how to navigate PCOS and breastfeeding at the same time.
Dive deep into interesting information about PCOS and breastfeeding, as well as four strategies to help you transition into your busy new lifestyle.
PCOS and Breastfeeding
First, the good news: many women with PCOS are able to nurse their babies without any problems. However, some women with PCOS experience some additional challenges with breastfeeding.
The main concern with PCOS and breastfeeding is an undersupply of milk. Unfortunately, there’s no clear reason why women with PCOS may experience a low milk supply. More than likely, however, it has to do with the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS.
The two hormones that are directly connected to breastfeeding are prolactin and oxytocin. Many women with PCOS have higher levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone. These androgen hormones can interfere with the way prolactin works in the body, leading to a lower milk supply during breastfeeding.
Insulin Resistance and Breastfeeding
Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning that their cells are resistant to insulin and do not efficiently absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. Therefore, an insulin-resistant person produces more insulin to help process glucose.
Milk-producing glands are sensitive to insulin, so those who struggle with insulin resistance may also struggle with low milk supply.
Four Strategies to Help with PCOS and Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be a challenge, even if you don’t have PCOS. Some of the following strategies can help all new moms establish a good breastfeeding relationship with their little ones, while others apply more directly to women with PCOS.
1. See a lactation consultant.
With the support of a lactation consultant, you can get some help to overcome these initial breastfeeding challenges. Management of lactation challenges early can have a significant effect on milk supply. Lactation consultants can help your baby achieve an effective latch, and this is often one of the main concerns new moms have with breastfeeding.
Lactation consultants can also help with low milk supply. Some women with a low milk supply choose to supplement their milk supply, and there are ways to do this while continuing to nurse your baby.
Look for a lactation consultant who is board certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Board-certified lactation consultants have the acronym “IBCLC” after their name. These health professionals can work in hospitals or private practices, and some will make home visits.
2. Exercise appropriately.
You may be eager to return to your pre-pregnancy fitness routine. Make sure you check with your doctor before resuming your exercise program, but once you have the green light, feel free to gradually start adding in physical activity that you enjoy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week postpartum. Include your little one when you can – try taking a walk with your baby in the stroller or a baby carrier or knock out a home workout with your baby on a blanket next to you. If you prefer to workout at a gym, find out if any local fitness centers offer childcare options.
Bonus: include strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in your workout program. Both of these types of exercise can help promote insulin sensitivity.
Don’t worry – exercise won’t affect the quality of your breast milk or your milk supply. High-intensity exercise may increase the lactic acid content of your breast milk and change the taste, but it’s not harmful for your baby. If your baby refuses to feed after strenuous exercise, wait at least 30 minutes and try again. Keep yourself comfortable by breastfeeding or pumping before you exercise, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and reap the physical and mental health benefits that regular exercise brings.
3. Lose weight at your own pace.
You may be eager to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, but remember that it won’t happen overnight. Women with PCOS who experience insulin resistance may face additional struggles when it comes to weight loss, but solid lifestyle habits like regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet can help you feel your best in your body. If weight loss is one of your goals, 1-2 pounds per week is generally safe.
Breastfeeding may help you reach your goals faster. Most women can expect milk production to burn about 500 calories per day. In general, most breastfeeding mothers need at least 1800 calories each day. Remember that everyone is different and has unique calorie needs. If you have questions or concerns about your individual needs, consider reaching out to a registered dietitian for guidance.
4. Take a high-quality lactation supplement supplement.
In addition to a healthy, balanced diet, a high-quality lactation supplement can help you make sure you get all the nutrients you and your baby need. Vitamin D and choline are both important nutrients while breastfeeding – find out why.
Vitamin D is important for your baby’s overall growth and development. Breast milk is generally too low in vitamin D to meet your baby’s vitamin D requirements. Most women do not get enough vitamin D from food and are not exposed to adequate sunlight daily. Therefore, their breast milk doesn’t contain the amount of vitamin D recommended for their baby.
As a nursing mom, it’s important for you or your baby to supplement with enough vitamin D each day to meet your baby’s needs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends giving breastfed babies 400 IU (10 mcg) of infant vitamin D drops each day. For many moms, giving vitamin D drops is difficult. Most babies do not like the taste of the drops and refuse them by mouth, and some babies still do not like that taste even when mixed into a bottle of breast milk. Additionally, these drops may not be independently tested for content accuracy and purity.
Adherence to vitamin D intake guidelines in exclusively breastfed babies is low. National data revealed that only 20% of exclusively breastfed babies receive the recommended 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D drops each day.
How do I make sure my breast milk contains enough vitamin D for my baby?
Research suggests that 88% of women prefer to take a vitamin D supplement themselves, rather than supplementing their baby. The good news: you can. One study showed that breastfed infants whose mothers took 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D3 daily achieved the same vitamin D blood level as infants who were given the recommended 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D drops each day. In other words, mothers who took 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D3 each day provided enough vitamin D to their babies through their breast milk alone.
If you are having a hard time giving your baby drops or would prefer an alternative, consider taking a high-quality lactation supplement with 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D. This provides another option for making sure your baby gets enough vitamin D each day.
Choline is a nutrient that helps support healthy growth and brain development. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for choline is 550 mg per day for lactating mothers – your choline needs are higher while breastfeeding than at any other time in your life.
Most women don’t get enough choline each day. Boost your intake with choline-rich foods like egg yolks, liver, chicken, fish, and beans, and consider a high-quality lactation supplement with choline to help you fill in the gaps.
Your new lifestyle is busy and challenging – remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself time to adjust. Breastfeeding, regular exercise, and a balanced diet may not fall into place all at once. There may be days that you’re too exhausted for a workout or too busy to sit down and eat a meal. That’s okay. Take it one day at a time, and slowly work on building healthy lifestyle habits that will support your body and your growing baby.