Diabetes and breastfeeding

Diabetes – Transcript

Many years ago if you had diabetes you would have been encouraged not to have children, and if you did have a child, you would be encouraged not to breastfeed – but thankfully we do know a lot more now about diabetes and breastfeeding, and the two are not incompatible.

In fact the truth is that if you have diabetes there are some really good reasons to breastfeed. We know that breastfeeding can help to stabilise your blood sugars, and may even reduce your need for insulin or other diabetic medications.

We even know that some women have gone into remission with their diabetes symptoms while they’ve been breastfeeding – and I do know a lady who was on very high dosages of insulin (unstable diabetic actually) and when she did breastfeed, her need for insulin was greatly reduced for the whole duration of her breastfeeding – and that was about 12 months.

Unfortunately she did find that once she had stopped breastfeeding her need for insulin increased again.

And we do know that insulin therapy is compatible with breast feeding because the molecules of insulin are too big to get into the breastmilk.

infant baby girl is sucklingAnd another really good reason to breastfeed if you have diabetes is that it can reduce the risk of your baby becoming a diabetic in the future.

And just for clarification there are different types of diabetes. It may be that you’re pregnant now and you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This is a temporary condition that usually affects 4% of pregnant women, and it really means that your body is just not producing enough insulin to meet the extra demands that your body needs to control those blood sugars.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common and usually occurs as a person gets older, maybe gains a bit more weight, and your body is just not able to control blood sugar levels appropriately. That’s usually controlled by diet and/or medication.

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

So if you are pregnant now and have diabetes, I know that you will have been monitored by health professionals throughout the pregnancy, and your baby will also be monitored after the birth for blood sugar levels too. We know the babies that are born to mums who have diabetes have a much higher risk of having low blood sugars right after the birth, and also a higher risk of jaundice.

Please also bear in mind that it may take a day or two longer for you mature milk to appear – and it’s really important that both you and your baby have stable blood sugar levels, and breastfeeding is a great way to stabilise those levels – so getting breast feeding off to a good start is paramount, and it’s important that you seek out all the information you can about establishing breastfeeding. (how breastfeeding works)

Closeup of a newborn nursingAnd it’s also a really good idea to learn how to hand express your milk, and particularly just before the birth, to express milk so that that milk can be given straightaway to your baby, if those blood sugar levels are low – and your own colostrum can be given to your baby if he is sleepy as well. Lots of skin to skin, and lots of frequent feeding is important.

But the more of your breastmilk he gets the better, and your breast milk is the priority supplement. So this can avoid the need for supplements of formula (mixed feeding) instance. So not only will breastfeeding will be providing all of the known protection for your baby, but it’s also going to be helping to stabilise you hormonally and metabolically and in so doing stabilise your diabetes.

So not only is breastfeeding going to provide all that your baby needs for protection, and we know so much about those things -as an added bonus it will also be helping to stabilise your diabetes from a hormonal and metabolic point of view.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

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


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