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New Mums with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – substantial link between high BMI’s and low breastfeeding rates

New Mums with () are more likely to be overweight and less likely to breastfeed than their counterparts in the healthy weight range, say scientists.

Already known to affect 1 in 5 Australian women, approximately one million women of childbearing age, PCOS is a growing concern and scientists are calling for further research into the clinical features including fertility issues associated with the condition.

PCOS is still one of the country’s most underdiagnosed conditions and is well-known for being linked to other health issues such as a high BMI, Type II Diabetes and infertility.

A new study conducted by scientists at Monash University investigating the link between breastfeeding habits and body mass index in women with and without PCOS has found a substantial link between high BMI’s and low breastfeeding rates.

Professor Helena Teede, Natalie Nanayakkara, Dr Anju Joham, Dr Sophia Zoungas, Associate Professor Deborah Loxton and Professor Eszter Vanky undertook the study using data from the Australian Longitudinal Women’s Health Study.

Working at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, they aimed to ascertain the link between breastfeeding, PCOS and pregnant women who are overweight or obese.

The findings are just one of the many research abstracts to be discussed at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Endocrine Society of Australia and the Society for Reproductive Biology 2013, from August 25-28 at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Professor Helena Teede said research into PCOS is much needed. “There is a widespread under-diagnosis of this condition and symptoms are often overlooked by health practitioners up until a woman has difficulty conceiving,” said Professor Teede.

“Recent figures show that approximately 72 per cent of women diagnosed with PCOS require costly fertility assistance, but when provided with this assistance, family sizes are similar to women without PCOS – ” These startling new figures prompted us to conduct research into reproductive issues associated with the condition,” she said.

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis of very large community based dataset from the government-funded, Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Participants were women aged 31 to 36 years old, and were randomly selected from the Medicare database.

“There is significant existing evidence that women who suffer from PCOS are more likely to be overweight. Small studies also suggested that women with PCOS had lower breastfeeding rates.

“Breast feeding is important in limiting weight retention after pregnancy in new mothers. With this study, we wanted to find whether there was a further link between PCOS and breastfeeding behaviours.

“The study discovered that, while there was no definitive link between PCOS and breastfeeding, there was a strong link between weight and breast feeding and for every five unit increase in BMI there was an approximate 20 day reduction in breastfeeding duration.

“What we want to see happening as a result of this study is increased lactation support for women who are overweight,” she said.

Obesity is a growing concern in Australia with recent ABS statistics showing 62.8 per cent of all Australians fall in the overweight or obese categories, defined by a minimum BMI rating of 25.

“Ultimately, rising obesity rates are now the primary cause of chronic disease in Australia and are at the root of some of our growing health issues including PCOS. As a nation we are leading increasingly sedentary lives, which serves to further compound the issue,” said Professor Teede.

“On average, women gain 700g per year but recent research has shown that women diagnosed with PCOS gain almost three times that amount.

“The figures are eye-opening and further highlight the need for more study in the area to help provide greater support to women affected by PCOS.

“By addressing things such as breastfeeding habits of women with PCOS we can better understand how to tackle the growing public health issue of the condition,” she said.


The Endocrine Society of Australia