You Can Breastfeed With PCOS. Here's How To Prepare For The Challenges

PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is found to be one of the most common hormonal conditions that affect people of childbearing age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that roughly 5 million Americans have it, with many still undiagnosed. It's still unclear what exactly causes this condition, but it's characterized by a litany of symptoms, including an irregular menstrual cycle, acne, weight gain, thinning hair, and infertility.

People with PCOS have an oversupply of androgens in their body, which are male hormones that women also have, but in a much smaller amount. Per the Mayo Clinic, having too much of this hormone interrupts ovulation, as eggs don't develop as often as they should. It's mainly why those with PCOS often struggle to conceive children.

Of course, having PCOS doesn't mean that you can no longer get pregnant. Your chances can still be high, so long as you commit to having a lifestyle change or resort to careful treatment. "Exercise and a good diet along with a normal body weight can boost your fertility. By managing the condition correctly, most women will be able to conceive either naturally or through the help of specialized medication," Dr. Sachchidananda Maiti, a consultant OB-GYN, told Women's Health. It's worth noting that your struggles with PCOS don't end with conceiving and giving birth though. As it turns out, you can still experience trouble generating a sufficient milk supply for your child.

How does PCOS affect breastfeeding?

Not all people with PCOS have difficulty producing milk for their children, but many do. For starters, the overabundance of androgens in your body can obstruct the receptors of prolactin, the milk-producing hormone, which then adversely affects the amount of milk you generate.

What's more, if you live with PCOS, you don't undergo what's considered the typical hormonal and physiological changes, so your body may not be primed to perform lactation. You also likely don't have adequate progesterone, the hormone responsible not only for getting people pregnant, but also for the development of breast tissue and conditioning the breasts to make milk. Insulin is found to play a part, too. Since the hormone heavily contributes to lactation and people with PCOS have insulin resistance, you may not produce as much milk as expected.

With all these being said, if you have PCOS and face difficulty in breastfeeding, there are still some workarounds you can do to provide ample milk for your baby. 

How people with PCOS can increase breast milk supply

The reason why most parents choose to breastfeed their baby in the first few months of birth is that the nutrient content of breast milk can do wonders in the growth of their child. "[Breast milk] has the right blend of fats and fluid for the baby, and it's also rich in antibodies," Dr. Lynn Simpson, director of maternal-fetal medicine and chief of obstetrics at Columbia University Medical Center, told Self. But if you have PCOS and aren't producing as much milk as you should, you can try to solve that by making lifestyle changes first. You may want to eat a healthier diet for proper nutrition, drink more water, get sufficient sleep, and reduce stress through self-care and relaxation.

Herbs and supplements are also known to boost milk production, including fenugreek, alfalfa, and even items you presumably already have in your pantry, like ginger and garlic. Frequent breastfeeding and pumping are also recommended since your body tends to produce more milk the more you do it. In some cases, metformin helps. Since it's often used to manage PCOS symptoms, some also find that it can enhance milk production.

If all else fails, you can always enlist the help of a lactation consultant to get to the bottom of why you're not producing enough milk. This way, you can get a more customized plan and treatment that works best for your specific case.