Dear Dr. Marc
Is it safe to go through IVF while breastfeeding? I have extensively researched the safety of the meds for me to take so that it doesn’t harm my daughter who’s nursing, but my doctor seems to think it could decrease my chances of getting pregnant (as in, decrease my response to the meds).
Hi Nursing Mom,
You pose a very interesting question with both medical and ethical implications. The benefits of nursing are significant for both mom and baby. Some maternal benefits include faster recovery after delivery, weight loss, lower long term chance for breast and ovarian cancer and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. For baby, the benefits include less short-term illness like ear infections, less long term illness like cardiovascular disease or obesity, less allergies and even a slightly greater IQ! To achieve these benefits, nursing should continue for a minimum of 6 months
Despite this long list of benefits and the fact that I encourage all of my patients to breast feed, I feel that IVF and nursing do not mix.
The main problem is due to the hormones prolactin and oxytocin, which are integral to milk production and release. These hormones, produced by the pituitary gland, affect many organs throughout the body including the uterus, brain, intestine and ovary. They are the reason why most women do not ovulate, and thus do not conceive, while breastfeeding. One can think of these hormones as nature’s birth control. Additionally, there are some rare types of brain tumors that produce prolactin, not coincidentally; infertility is one of effects for women with these tumors. Lastly, some experts believe that elevated prolactin levels play a role in miscarriage. For all these reasons, it seems like a good idea to keep prolactin and oxytocin levels as low as possible while trying to conceive. In your case, that means cessation of nursing.
My view is that IVF requires such an enormous investment in terms of time, emotion and money, that it makes sense to make every effort to optimize the environment as much as possible. My advice to you is to decide whether it is more important to continue nursing, or to try and conceive. This decision should be based on your age, the amount of time you have been nursing and the reason you need IVF.
Despite my opinion that IVF and nursing do not mix, nursing during IVF is probably not dangerous. If you decide to undergo a cycle and continue to nurse, you will probably just have a lower chance for success and maybe a slightly higher chance for miscarriage. If you are okay with these risks, then I think your doctor should respect your wishes.
Good luck Nursing Mom,
Dr. MarcPin It