Breastfeeding With Diabetes: What to Know

Most health experts say that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby, and that if you're able to do it, you should give it a try. In an ideal world, you'd breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of your baby's life. But if you have diabetes, you may wonder if that’s true for you. No worries: If you want to breastfeed, having diabetes shouldn't prevent you from doing so, and both you and your baby will reap some pretty impressive benefits.

That said, breastfeeding isn't always easy, and women with diabetes may face a few extra complications, so it pays to be prepared. Get in the know about nursing with diabetes.

Benefits for You and Your Baby

For your little one, it’s well-known that babies who are breastfed (regardless of whether Mom has diabetes) tend to have fewer health problems, including respiratory and ear infections, digestive trouble, and asthma. They might also be less likely to develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

You may also get some health perks.

If you had gestational diabetes (you developed diabetes for the first time while pregnant), chances are your high blood sugar levels will go back to normal shortly after you give birth. But you'll still be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes for the rest of your life. Breastfeeding will help your blood sugar fall right away, which might lower your chances of getting diabetes later on.

Whether you had gestational diabetes, or you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, breastfeeding might help you lose the extra pounds you put on during pregnancy, which is another bonus for your health. Women who breastfeed also have lower chances of getting breast and ovarian cancers. And they tend to recover from birth more quickly because the hormones released while nursing encourage the uterus to contract.

Although most experts, including those at the American Diabetes Association, say that breastfeeding is good for women with diabetes, it's not unusual to hit some snags.

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Is Nursing Hard?

This can happen for anyone, but diabetes can add some challenges. For instance, it could make your milk come in more slowly.

If you’re overweight -- like many but not all women with type 2 diabetes -- that sometimes makes nursing harder, especially early on.

Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant if you need help or are unsure whether you should supplement with formula.

Are Your Meds Safe for Your Baby?

In most cases, a medication that was OK for you to use when you were pregnant should be fine to continue while nursing. But it's always wise to check with your doctor.

Metformin is usually a good choice, and insulin should be OK. If you have type 1, you should certainly continue to take insulin, though you might find that you need less while breastfeeding than you did before you got pregnant.

With type 1, you may find that the hormonal changes from giving birth and breastfeeding change the amount of insulin you need and throw your general testing and treating routine out of whack. You may want to work with a lactation consultant, diabetes educator, or nutritionist until you get the hang of things.

Low Blood Sugar

Making milk takes a lot of energy, and breast milk is loaded with lactose, a type of sugar. When you nurse your baby and that sugar leaves your body, your blood sugar levels may dip by up to 25% and your blood sugar could drop too low (hypoglycemia).

Checking your blood sugar more often and planning ahead can help a lot. And It's usually a good idea to have a snack before nursing and to keep something like fruit juice nearby while you breastfeed, in case you start to get hypoglycemic. Also, sip lots of water to stay hydrated.

Your Routines Change

No matter what type of diabetes you have, you'll probably need support from family and friends, too.

It can be hard for anyone with a newborn to find time to prepare healthy meals, but if you have diabetes, it's extra important to eat well and regularly.

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Sleep deprivation and learning to live with a new baby can make you pretty forgetful, so you might also need people to remind you to do things like test your blood sugar and take your insulin injections or oral medications.

If you normally give yourself a shot of insulin before a meal, your body is expecting a certain amount of carbohydrates to come in very soon. If your baby starts to cry and you stop eating to soothe her, she’ll feel better, but you could end up delaying your shot and become hypoglycemic. Try wearing your baby in a sling while you eat, or make sure your partner or another helper is available to help so you can finish eating.

What Else to Check On

Watch for thrush. Having diabetes makes you more likely to get yeast infections, and this one can cause pain and itching in the nipples. If you get a rash or blisters or have serious pain while feeding, call your doctor.

You may also want to ask your doctor or a pharmacist to check your monitor and testing supplies now and then to make sure they're working right.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on April 17, 2017

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics: "AAP Policy on Breastfeeding," "Breastfeeding FAQs."

American Diabetes Association: "After Delivery," "Breastfeeding Babies Exposed to Diabetes in Utero Protects Against Childhood Obesity."

Breastfeeding Today (La Leche League International): "Diabetes and Breastfeeding."

Diabetes UK: "Pregnancy and Diabetes."

Diabetes Voice (International Diabetes Federation): "Breastfeeding and Diabetes -- Benefits and Special Needs."
Canadian Family Physician: "Use of hypoglycemic drugs during lactation."

Diabetes Care: "Breastfeeding After Gestational Diabetes Pregnancy."

Stop Diabetes (American Diabetes Association blog): "Breastfeeding and Diabetes: What’s the Connection?"

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