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

  • Vânia Vieira BorbaEmail author
  • Yehuda Shoenfeld
Review Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Autoimmune Collection 2018


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.


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



Human leukocyte antigen






Major histocompatibility complex


Progesterone-induced blocking factor


Prolactin-growth hormone


Ribonucleic acid


T helper cells


Transforming growth factor


Tumor necrosis factor


T regulatory cells



This work is supported by the grant of the Government of the Russian Federation for the state support of scientific research carried out under the supervision of leading scientists, agreement 14.W03.31.0009, on the basis of SPbU projects and 15.64.785.2017.

Compliance with ethical standards




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Copyright information

© International League of Associations for Rheumatology (ILAR) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department ‘A’ of Internal MedicineCoimbra University Hospital CentreCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.Faculty of MedicineUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  3. 3.Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases, Sheba Medical CenterTel Aviv UniversityTel HashomerIsrael
  4. 4.Sackler Faculty of MedicineTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  5. 5.Laboratory of the Mosaics of AutoimmunitySaint Petersburg State UniversitySaint PetersburgRussian Federation

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