Breastfeeding with Diabetes: Benefits, Precautions & more

Diabetes and Breastfeeding

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Shruti Kainth (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

There are barely any alternatives for feeding your child that give as many benefits and advantages as breastfeeding. Right from the amount of nutrition and antibodies that come with the milk, down to the strengthening of the bond that takes place due to holding your baby close to you, breastfeeding is more than just giving your baby food. It is the very creation of a mother-child bond, which is why, you may start worrying about it if you have diabetes, more so if you’ve just found out about it. Read on to know whether you can breastfeed if you have diabetes.

Is It Safe to Breastfeed If you have Diabetes?

A mother breastfeeding her baby

Absolutely! Breastfeeding is how your child gets what he needs in the best way possible. Some parents might consider switching to alternatives such as using baby formula, but there is no need to interrupt your breastfeeding cycles, no matter what type of diabetes you have.

Does Breastfeeding Reduce the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes?

For people suffering from type 2 diabetes, most doctors recommend opting for a diet that is more geared towards nutrition and health, and make changes in the lifestyle that allows room for exercise and everyday activities. Breastfeeding may not fall into either of these recommendations; however, it is quite effective in decreasing the risk of developing such kind of diabetes in the future.

This applies to both the mother as well as the child. Research has shown that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes reduces by around 15% for breastfeeding mothers. This benefit lasts for about 15 years following their last child. As for the baby, the reduction in risk for development of type 2 diabetes is around 40%, which is quite substantial. This is also due to the fact that breastfed children end up having a lower chance of getting obese.

Let’s take a look at some more benefits of breastfeeding with diabetes.

Benefits of Breastfeeding With Diabetes

When it comes to the child and the diabetic mother, breastfeeding brings multiple advantages to both, which could be temporary, but some benefits could last for an entire lifetime.

For the Mother

Here are some of the benefits for the mother.

  • In many mothers, pregnancy and breastfeeding seem to have a connection with weight gain and obesity. However, recent studies have shown otherwise. It has been observed that for every six months that a mother breastfeeds a child, the chances of obesity are reduced by 1 percent.
  • Some of the doctors believe that the reduction in risk is partially linked to the changes a mother’s body undergoes after childbirth. Various nerve centres recalibrate themselves and metabolism undergoes a change, too.
  • As the risk of being obese is reduced, it consequently lowers the risk of developing heart-related issues as well as type 2 diabetes. This, too, accumulates the longer a mother decides to breastfeed. Studies have shown that mothers who don’t develop pregnancy-induced diabetes, further reduce the risk of the aforementioned conditions by nearly 50 percent. On the other hand, mothers who had pregnancy-induced diabetes reduced the risks even more by 75 percent and more by breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding tends to affect many other areas of the body, too and could help prevent osteoporosis and arthritis from developing in the future. The chances of female-specific cancers that affect the ovaries, uterus or breast are also brought down considerably.
  • The process of childbirth is taxing, and breastfeeding plays a vital role in making sure the mother can recover from it. Even though breastfeeding does take up energy, it ends up stimulating the secretion of oxytocin, which is a feel-good hormone. This helps you relax, recover your strength, and feel better emotionally, too. It also impacts the sugar levels in the blood by reducing them, which is quite beneficial for women with gestational diabetes.

For the Baby

Here are the benefits the baby receives if you breastfeed despite being diabetic.

  • There can never be enough emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding for newborns and growing babies. The satisfaction of hunger is just one aspect of it since breast milk contains many substances and antibodies. These bring about a substantial reduction in the risks of developing an infection of the respiratory system, hypertension due to blood pressure issues, asthma, various allergic reactions, and even diabetes.
  • The studies on mothers breastfeeding their babies despite suffering from pregnancy-induced diabetes have shown conflicting outcomes. While some of them point to an increased risk of the child getting obese, others have indicated that the risks pretty much reduce due to its presence. Nevertheless, it has been observed that the risk is unaffected by its presence, which gives another reason to continue breastfeeding your child at least for six months.
  • Parents are usually quick to notice that a baby tends to gain more weight when he feeds on formula milk from a bottle as compared to the milk he gets from the mother’s breast. However, it’s not the formula, but the presence of the bottle that makes it happen. Since the bottle gives the babies a higher degree of control over drinking milk as and when they want, they tend to drink more than usual. The same can be observed when breast milk is expressed and given via the bottle, too.

How Breastfeeding Affects Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced diabetes is usually observed when the sugar levels in the blood rise during pregnancy. Nearly 10 percent of women suffer from this condition, which is purely a result of a higher quantity of hormone generation leading to increased sugar. The insulin levels fail to match up at times, causing pregnancy-induced diabetes, and fade away once the delivery is complete.

This fading of diabetes is not instantaneous since it takes quite some time for the body to fall back into its usual routine and bring about a reduction in sugar levels. Breastfeeding plays a vital role in this since it makes use of the body’s sugar to be passed on to the child. This could be quite important for babies who have low sugar. Such babies also stand to face a higher chance of being obese later in life. However, breastfeeding has shown to reduce such risks by nearly 50 percent, along with other heart issues. Furthermore, since breastfeeding as a process uses quite a bit of calorie, it helps the mother maintain optimal weight and reduce her own risks of developing diabetes as well.

How Breastfeeding Affects Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes and breastfeeding seldom go hand-in-hand, and certain pointers do need to be observed. Since breastfeeding reduces sugar levels, care must be taken to not get them too low, especially if you are already on insulin. It is best to accompany your breastfeeding sessions with a small snack to munch on.

The calories that are burnt by a mother in the process of breastfeeding play an active role in bringing down the body weight, which consequently also assists in controlling the sugar levels in the blood. A nutritious diet that contains enough proteins and carbohydrates can help with this, too. It is essential to maintain a consistent and healthy supply of breast milk, as well.

A higher risk of suffering from reduced sugar levels occurs in the phases when your baby experiences growth spurts. Since the demand for milk increases and your baby will drink a higher quantity of milk more often, your blood sugar levels can plummet if care is not taken. The same could be countered by reducing your insulin intake or increasing your food intake.

Will Breastfeeding Affect Blood Glucose Levels?

Since the very process of generating breast milk involves using the existing glucose in your body as a source, breastfeeding is bound to result in reduced glucose levels in your blood. This is usually observed by mothers already on insulin, as regular monitoring of sugar levels will show a dip that’s greater than usual. This should be taken care of by adjusting the insulin dosage such that you won’t end up having dangerously low sugar, resulting in hypoglycaemia.

Will Diabetes Affect the Milk Supply?

Having diabetes and low breast milk supply is quite a possibility. This is primarily due to the presence of additional insulin, which is known to obstruct the production of breast milk. Mothers might notice that their milk production is low and not enough to satiate the baby. This is usually temporary and can be restored to normal by bringing your diabetes under control.

Can Diabetes Affect the Quality of Milk?

Since glucose plays an important role in the generation of breast milk, the quality of breast milk is usually dependent on the levels of sugar in the blood. If the right methods are utilised to take care of those levels and maintain them to an optimal limit, the quality will be unaffected, and your baby will get the best breast milk that there is.

Tips for Mothers With Diabetes to Breastfeeding Their Babies

Whether you are suffering from gestational diabetes or type 1 diabetes, breastfeeding needs to be undertaken by keeping a few tips in mind.

  • Breastfeeding takes quite a toll on the glucose levels in your body. This makes it necessary to replenish the glucose levels as soon as possible so that the generation of breast milk continues unabated. One of the best ways to do so is to fix yourself a quick snack before you feed your child. Make sure the snack contains enough proteins and carbohydrates.
  • Breastfeeding is a physical and metabolic activity, which requires effort from the baby as well as the mother. Nearly 400-600 calories are burnt across multiple breastfeeding sessions undertaken throughout the day. These need to be countered by having an increased calorie intake in all your meals to balance the amount.
  • Many mothers face lactation issues after delivery, and mothers suffering from diabetes face it more often than others. The milk might take longer to start emerging from the breast, which could even take more than a day or two. In such cases, although opting for baby formula might be your go-to option, it is recommended that the child feeds on breast milk obtained from a donor.
  • Even if your baby is not feeding off your breast due to the absence of milk, the stimulation of breasts needs to continue. This stimulation itself starts triggering the bodily processes to kick in and begin the milk production. If you are breastfeeding less frequently, pump your breast between the feeding sessions. Whatever breast milk your baby can get, should be given to him.
  • Doctors always emphasise on skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the child. The body experiences the phase of motherhood through such experiences, which also affect the internal processes and can further stimulate milk to start generating.
  • If you are fortunate enough to have breast milk ready after delivery, feed your child on it as soon as possible. The very first and fresh breast milk contains the largest amount of nutrients and antibodies that are extremely vital for your child.
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels on a daily basis. Make sure your insulin dosage is adjusted in accordance with the levels, which will fluctuate once you start breastfeeding.
  • Complement your usual diet with the inclusion of calcium supplements. The demand for calcium is always high, especially in the initial phase of the baby’s growth.
  • Diabetic mothers can easily develop mastitis or thrush if their breasts are not handled properly. This makes it necessary to ensure that the baby can latch on to the nipple correctly, and any excess milk is expressed out of the breast and stored to be given to the baby a while later.
  • Stress is bad for a nursing mother. Take pleasure in your baby feeding from your breast and be relaxed.

Will Diabetic Medication Affect Your Baby?

New mothers with diabetes are usually put on external medications that provide the right dose of insulin, such as metformin. The medicines interact with the sugar levels in your body, but they don’t affect your child. Therefore, there is no need to worry on that front.

Diabetes and gestational diabetes are quite an unwelcomed condition without a doubt. But it is good to know that breastfeeding actually helps in handling those conditions in a better way. Taking the right steps to do so and maintaining your own health can ensure healthy growth for your child now and even in the future.

Also Read:

Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Fruits to Eat and Avoid during Breastfeeding
Chocolate during Breastfeeding
Cold Medicine during Breastfeeding

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