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Breast Milk Production and Insulin Resistance

Jul 10, 2013

Since I have a little 4 month old baby at home and am breastfeeding, the article about breast milk supply and insulin production caught my eye. This is my second child and I have never had trouble with milk supply, but I have known of several women who have struggled with supply issues. In my public health work as a dietitian, I also worked with the WIC program and counseled women regarding breastfeeding, and producing enough milk was a common topic of discussion.

This study in PLOS ONE, an international peer-reviewed online journal, found that during lactation, milk producing glands are highly sensitive to insulin, turning insulin receptors on. This study explores RNA sequencing and how insulin plays a key role in breast milk production. Women who are challenged by insulin resistance with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes may be more likely to struggle with low milk supply. Laurie Nommsen-Rivers, PhD, was the researcher from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who looked at the genetic portrait of several samples of human breast milk.

Their news release explained that insulin was previously not thought to be involved in the milk-making cells but now researchers realize that insulin is a bigger player than just glucose processing. The Cincinnati’s Children Hospital news release stated, “the PTPRF gene, which is known to suppress intracellular signals that are usually triggered by insulin binding to its receptor on the cell surface, may serve as a biomarker linking insulin resistance with insufficient milk supply.”

The next step in the research is to study how diabetes drugs improves milk supply. This is not necessarily the intended future treatment. They are just looking at insulin and glucose metabolism to learn more. The researcher, Nommsen-Rivers, encourages that the best treatment is preventative through good nutrition and exercise. As I mentioned, I have never had trouble with milk supply but I have exercised during both pregnancies and also postpartum. I did not realize my active lifestyle may have played a role. I think this is yet another reason to encourage physical activity for the pregnant and new mother with diabetes. Certainly exercise during this time is a little more challenging but it is well worth it.

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  1. Jul 15, 2013

    Great post, Amy! I had heard complaints from patients about milk supply but didn't realize the insulin connection. The exercise connection is very good indeed and even more reason to be active before, during and after pregnancy.

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