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Post-Pregnancy and PCOS: What to Expect & How to Manage

Bringing a new life into the world is a beautiful journey, but women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) often face unique challenges, particularly during breastfeeding. These challenges often stem from high insulin levels and insulin resistance. Effectively managing insulin levels can have positive effects on both maternal mental health and the long-term well-being of both mother and child. 

This blog post will explain everything you need to know about insulin resistance and PCOS post-pregnancy to help you pave the way for successful breastfeeding and achieve sustainable wellness for you and your new bundle of joy! 

An Overview: PCOS and Insulin Resistance 

PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, a condition where your body’s cells don’t respond effectively to insulin, leading to even higher insulin levels in the blood. This insulin resistance can persist during and after pregnancy, influencing various aspects of a woman’s health and contributing to certain PCOS symptoms post-pregnancy. 

Breastfeeding Challenges with PCOS 

For women with PCOS, breastfeeding can come with its own set of challenges: 

  • Insufficient Milk Supply: One of the most common concerns for women with PCOS during breastfeeding is the risk of having an insufficient milk supply. Elevated insulin levels can affect the development and function of mammary glands, leading to difficulties in milk production. 
  • Delayed Lactogenesis: Women with PCOS may experience delayed onset of lactation, which can further compound breastfeeding challenges. This delay in milk production can result in difficulties getting the baby to “latch” and lead to frustration for both the mother and the baby. 

Insulin Resistance and Mental Health 

Insulin resistance doesn’t just affect physical health; it can also take a toll on mental well-being, particularly for new mothers who are already navigating the challenges of postpartum life. Here’s how: 

  • Increased Risk of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Insulin resistance has been linked to a higher risk of postpartum depression and anxiety. Fluctuating hormonal changes post-pregnancy, sleep deprivation, and the demands of caring for a newborn can exacerbate these mental health issues. 
  • Mood Swings and Fatigue: High insulin levels can contribute to mood swings and fatigue, making it even more challenging for new mothers to cope with the emotional demands of motherhood. 

Breastmilk and Insulin Levels 

Recent studies have highlighted a concerning connection between a mother’s insulin levels and the composition of her breast milk. Moms with high insulin levels tend to have higher insulin levels in their breast milk. This can lead to elevated insulin levels in their babies, putting them on the path toward metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity later in life.  

How Does Insulin Resistance Affect Your Ability to Breastfeed Successfully?  

Understanding your body’s ability to successfully produce breast milk is key. Here’s the breakdown of how it works and insulin’s role in the process:  

  • Energy for Milk Production: Producing breast milk is energy-intensive. To get this energy, the body relies on glucose or fat. 
  • High Insulin & Glucose: When insulin levels are too high, it’s hard for the body to derive the necessary glucose. Elevated insulin also inhibits fat breakdown, making it tough to source the energy needed for milk production. This often results in increased hunger in breastfeeding mothers as the body compensates for the energy deficit. 
  • Utilizing Body Fat: Keeping insulin levels in check allows mothers to use the body fat accumulated during pregnancy for breast milk production. This is the primary purpose of this fat. However, high insulin levels can block access to this fat reserve. 
  • Insulin Management: By managing insulin levels throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding, mothers can ensure healthier pregnancies and more successful breastfeeding. 

Managing Insulin Levels for PCOS and Breastfeeding Success 

To navigate the challenges of post-pregnancy and breastfeeding with PCOS, it’s crucial to focus on managing insulin levels: 

  • Low Insulin Lifestyle: To maintain normal insulin levels, follow a low insulin lifestyle. This means focusing on foods like non-starchy vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fatty fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils. Stay away from foods that can cause insulin spikes, such as starches, sugary items, and excessive dairy products. 
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity helps lower insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Consult with your healthcare provider to develop a safe and effective exercise plan during and after pregnancy. 
  • Medication and Supplements: Some women with PCOS may require medications or supplements to manage insulin resistance. Discuss these options with your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable treatment plan, but remember that medication cannot take the place of a low insulin lifestyle. 
  • Stress Management: Chronic stress can worsen insulin resistance. Incorporate stress-reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises into your daily routine. 

PCOS Management After Childbirth 

Navigating post-pregnancy and breastfeeding with PCOS can be challenging, but it’s possible to overcome these hurdles with the right strategies. Managing insulin resistance is key to ensuring a successful breastfeeding journey, safeguarding maternal mental health, and promoting the long-term well-being of both mother and child. 

Wrapping Up: Pregnancy and PCOS 

As we conclude our four-part series on pregnancy and PCOS, we hope you have a better understanding of how insulin resistance can affect your ability to get pregnant, stay pregnant, have a healthy pregnancy, and manage postpartum obstacles with PCOS. If you haven’t already, check out our previous blogs in this series:  

Lilli Health: Your PCOS Coach 

Lilli Health is a company dedicated to helping educate women with PCOS about nutrition and wellness. We’re committed to providing evidence-backed resources, education, and tools to help you manage PCOS symptoms by tackling the root problem: insulin resistance.  

For a deeper dive into the various aspects of insulin resistance and PCOS, check out our book Low Insulin Lifestyle. This, among our other tools, including Lilli At-Home Insulin Test Kits and the Lilli App (available soon!), is designed to help you take control of your health and bring you closer to your wellness goals. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on all things Lilli health and receive practical tips and advice straight to your inbox!