Background: Fully breastfeeding women experience an amenorrhoea of variable duration. Our aim was to identify in pregnancy, endocrine markers that could predict the duration of subsequent lactational amenorrhoea.
Methods: We studied 17 healthy women at 34 and 38 weeks gestation, and 1 and 3 months post-partum. The women fully breastfed until 6 months post-partum. During pregnancy, prolactin (PRL), oestrogens (total oestradiol, unconjugated oestrone, unconjugated oestriol), sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEA-S), progesterone and placental lactogen, and during post-partum PRL, oestrogens and SHBG, were measured. Free oestradiol in pregnancy and post-partum was calculated.
Results: Ten women experienced long (>6 months) and seven experienced short (<6 months) lactational amenorrhoea. At 38 weeks gestation, the women who experienced a long lactational amenorrhoea had twice as much PRL, about half the total oestradiol, lower SHBG concentration (P < 0.05, Student's t-test, Bonferroni modification) and similar free oestradiol concentration, compared with those who experienced short lactational amenorrhoea. The difference in PRL concentration persisted in post-partum postsuckling samples.
Conclusion: At 38 weeks gestation, the ratio PRL/oestradiol identified all individual women according to the subsequent duration of their lactational amenorrhoea, suggesting that duration of lactational amenorrhoea is conditioned during pregnancy.