Prolactin, autoimmunity, and motherhood: when should women avoid breastfeeding?

Vânia Vieira Borba*, Yehuda Shoenfeld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The sexual dimorphic prevalence of autoimmunity represents one of the most alluring observations among the mosaic of autoimmunity. Sex hormones are believed to be a mainstay of this asymmetry. The greater prevalence of autoimmunity among fertile women, disease onset/relapses during pregnancy, and postpartum are some of the points that support this theory. Undeniably, motherhood represents one of the most remarkable challenges for the immune system that not only has to allow for the conceptus but also deal with extraordinary hormonal alterations. Prolactin has a recognized immune-stimulatory effect, mainly inhibiting the negative selection of autoreactive B lymphocytes. In accordance, hyperprolactinemia has been associated with several autoimmune diseases, interfering with its pathogenesis and activity. During the pregnancy and lactation period, assorted autoimmune patients experience relapses, suggesting an active interference from increased levels of prolactin. This association was found to be significant in systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and peripartum cardiomyopathy. Furthermore, treatment with bromocriptine has shown beneficial effects specially among systemic lupus erythematosus patients. In this review, we attempt to provide a critical overview of the link between prolactin, autoimmune diseases, and motherhood, emphasizing whether breastfeeding should be avoided among women, both with diagnosed disease or high risk for its development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1263-1270
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Rheumatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2019


  • Autoimmunity
  • Breastfeeding
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Prolactin
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sex hormones
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Systemic sclerosis


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