Diabetes and breastfeeding

Many years ago, if you had a diagnosis of diabetes, you would have been encouraged not to have children.

If you did have a child, you would be encouraged not to breastfeed. 

Thankfully we now know a lot more about diabetes, and that breastfeeding is completely compatible with diabetes.

If you have diabetes, there are some positive reasons to breastfeed.

We know that breastfeeding can help to stabilize your blood sugars, and may even reduce your need for insulin or other diabetic medications.

Some women may go into remission with their diabetic symptoms while they are breastfeeding.

It’s good to learn that insulin treatment is compatible with breastfeeding because the molecules that make up insulin are too big to get into breastmilk. 

Close up of a breastfeeding baby

Studies have shown that if you have diabetes, breastfeeding can potentially reduce the risk of your baby experiencing diabetes in the future.

There are different types of diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that usually affects 4% of pregnant women.

With this type of diabetes, your body will struggle to produce enough insulin required to meet the extra demands that your body needs to control blood sugars.

Type 2 diabetes is most common and usually occurs as a person gets older, or gains a little more weight.

Your body will not be able to control blood sugar levels appropriately.

However, diet or medication (or both) will help to redress this balance.

Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed a lot earlier in life, is the type where your pancreas is not working efficiently to produce insulin. Insulin has to be given by injection each day.

If you are pregnant and have diabetes, you are likely to be monitored by health professionals throughout pregnancy.

After the birth, your baby’s blood sugar levels will be monitored too.

Babies who are born to mothers who have diabetes have a much higher risk of low blood sugars immediately after the birth, and also a higher risk of jaundice.

It may take a day or two longer for your mature milk to appear, and it’s crucial that both you and your baby have stable blood sugar levels.

Breastfeeding is a fantastic way to stabilize those levels. 

Getting breastfeeding off to a good start is paramount, so seek out the information and support you need to achieve this.

A front view of a breastfeeding baby

Learn how to hand express your milk, and particularly just before the birth, so that you can express and give it to your baby if blood sugar levels are low. 

This colostrum can also be given to your baby if he is sleepy and not feeding well. 

Lots of skin to skin (kangaroo care) and lots of frequent feeding is essential.

The more of your breastmilk he gets, the better. Breast milk should always be the priority supplement.

Giving your own colostrum can help to avoid the need for supplements of formula. 

Not only will breastfeeding help to provide all of the known protection for your baby, and reduce your baby’s risk of diabetes, it can also help to stabilize your diabetes.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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