Diabetes and Breastfeeding

A woman getting her blood sugar levels checked

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, as well as making changes in your lifestyle that allows room for exercise and everyday activity. Breastfeeding may not fall into either of these recommendations. However, it is quite effective in decreasing the risk of developing such kind of diabetes later 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 mothers, and 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 do end up having a lower chance of getting obese.

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 as well as could last for an entire lifetime.

For Mother

Here are some of the benefits of breastfeeding with diabetes for the mother.

  • In many mothers, pregnancy and breastfeeding seem to have a connection with gaining weight and getting obese. However, recent studies have shown otherwise. It has been observed that for every 6 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 body undergoes after it experiences childbirth. Various nerve centres recalibrate themselves as well as metabolism undergoes a change, too.
  • As the risks of being obese are reduced, these consequently cause a reduction in the risks 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, ranging up to 75 percent and more.
  • Obesity, diabetes, and health issue risk reduction is one part. Breastfeeding tends to affect many other areas of the body, resulting in osteoporosis and arthritis being prevented from developing ahead in life. The chances of female-specific cancers that affect 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, reducing them, which is quite beneficial for women with gestational diabetes.

For Baby

Here are the benefits the baby receives if you breastfeed with diabetes.

  • There can never be enough emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding for newborns and growing babies. 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 suffering from pregnancy-induced diabetes breastfeeding their baby have been conflicting. 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, gestational diabetes or not, it has been observed that the risk is unaffected by its presence, which gives another reason to not stop breastfeeding your child at least for 6 months.
  • Parents are usually quick to notice that a baby tends to gain more weight when he feeds on the formula milk from the bottle, as compared to the milk he gets from the mother’s breast. The target, however, is incorrect. 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 if breastmilk is expressed and given via the bottle, too.

How Breastfeeding affects Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is also known as pregnancy-induced diabetes since it is usually observed when the sugar levels in the blood elevate during pregnancy. Nearly 10 percent of women suffer from this condition that 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, which fades away once the delivery is complete.

This fading away 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 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, too. 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 the mother in the process of breastfeeding her child 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 can help with this, too, that contains enough proteins and carbohydrates. This is essential to maintain a consistent and healthy supply of breastmilk as well.

A higher risk of suffering from reduced sugar levels occurs in the phases when your baby experiences a growth spurt. 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 together diabetes and breastfeeding low milk supply is quite a possibility. This is primarily due to the presence of additional insulin, which is known to obstruct the production of breastmilk. Mothers might notice that their milk production is slow 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 breastmilk, the quality of breastmilk is usually dependent on the levels of sugar in the blood. If the right methods are utilized 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 breastmilk that there is.

Tips for Breastfeeding Mother with Diabetes

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 them as soon as possible so that the generation of breastmilk continues unabated. One of the best ways to do so is to fix yourself a quick snack before you feed your child. Making sure the snack contains enough proteins and carbohydrates works to your benefit.
  • 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 breastmilk 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 breastmilk your baby can get, should be given to him.
  • Doctors always emphasize on the 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 breastmilk ready after delivery, feed your child on it as soon as possible. The very first and fresh breastmilk 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 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 excessive milk is expressed out of the breast and stored for the baby later.
  • Stress is bad for a nursing mother. Take pleasure in your baby feeding off your breast and be relaxed.

Will Diabetic Medication affect your Baby?

New mothers having issues of diabetes are usually put on external medication that provides the right dose of insulin, metformin or other medicines. These interact with the sugar levels in your body, but they don’t affect your child. So there is no need to worry on that front.

Diabetes and gestational diabetes for that matter are quite an unwelcome 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