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If I Have Diabetes, Can I Breastfeed My Baby

Parents with diabetes, whether it’s type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes, exhibit similarities to other new parents in various aspects. However, a study conducted at Nationwide Children’s Hospital reveals that they are less inclined to initiate breastfeeding during their hospital stay and sustain breastfeeding for a minimum of two months. The research identifies common reasons shared with other parents but also highlights unique concerns specific to women with diabetes, such as managing their diabetic condition and medications. It’s essential to note that while these valid concerns exist, they should not deter parents with diabetes from opting to breastfeed if they wish to do so.

Is It Safe for Parents With Diabetes to Breastfeed?

Absolutely! The majority of diabetes medications are considered safe for use while breastfeeding. It’s always advisable to consult your healthcare provider but don’t let diabetes deter you from nursing your baby. Even for parents who manage their diabetes through dietary measures instead of medication, breastfeeding is still safe. Your body will naturally produce milk tailored to your baby’s needs, regardless of occasional fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.

  • One potential concern for breastfeeding parents with diabetes is that lactation might impact their blood sugar levels. It could necessitate consuming more snacks, staying well-hydrated, adjusting medication, or increasing blood glucose monitoring. It’s advisable to have a conversation with your doctor or a dietitian to develop a suitable meal and medication plan for the duration of your breastfeeding journey.
  • Delay in Milk Production: Women with diabetes may experience a delay in the onset of milk production following childbirth. To overcome this, you can take a proactive approach by storing colostrum, the initial milk rich in antibodies for a newborn, prior to giving birth. It’s advisable to consult a lactation specialist well in advance of your due date to learn the techniques of hand-expressing colostrum from your breasts before delivery and how to safely store it until your baby arrives.
  • Infants with Underdeveloped Sucking Reflex. Women with diabetes have a higher likelihood of experiencing pregnancy complications, such as preterm pre-eclampsia, which can result in premature labor and birth. These factors can introduce unpredictability into the birthing process, and premature infants may possess an underdeveloped sucking reflex, making breastfeeding a challenging or even impossible task. Such infants might also have an increased likelihood of requiring care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). However, it’s important to note that in the NICU, it is possible to provide infants with expressed breast milk through a tube or bottle. Depending on the specific medical circumstances surrounding the baby’s NICU admission, it may still be feasible to breastfeed the infant.

Are there specific considerations that women with diabetes should know of before opting for breastfeeding?

For every new mother, whether they have diabetes or not, mastering the art of breastfeeding requires time and often necessitates substantial support. If you’re determined to breastfeed and you have diabetes, we recommend the following advice:

  1. Check if your hospital has obtained baby-friendly accreditation. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative indicates which hospitals are dedicated to providing strong breastfeeding support.
  2. Develop a support team for yourself after childbirth. This team may include a lactation consultant who can assist you both during your hospital stay and at home while you work on establishing breastfeeding. You might also consider post-partum doulas who can provide guidance on infant feeding, post-birth recovery, newborn care, safety, and related matters.
  3. Learn the art of using a breast pump for milk expression. Whether it’s a manual pump or a hospital-grade pump, knowing how to effectively use it is invaluable. This skill comes in handy if your baby takes some time to grasp efficient latching, if you wish to pump to initiate or maintain your milk supply, or if you intend to store your breast milk for bottle feeding your baby.
  4. If you find that your milk supply is insufficient, various dietary choices and medications are available to enhance it. To determine the most suitable approach for your needs, it’s advisable to have a discussion with a lactation consultant or consult your healthcare provider.

Is Breastfeeding Recommended for Parents with Diabetes?

Yes! Breastfeeding offers numerous advantages for both the infant and the parent. However, it’s essential to recognize that each family is unique. When deciding on the feeding method for your baby, it’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider, pediatrician, or lactation specialist to obtain accurate information and determine what’s most suitable for your family’s specific needs.

Parents with any form of diabetes, including gestational diabetes, can benefit both themselves and their infants by choosing to breastfeed. Infants born to parents with type 2 diabetes are at a heightened risk of developing the condition, but breastfeeding serves as a protective measure, reducing the likelihood of its occurrence. Research also indicates that infants who are exclusively breastfed for a duration of six months or more have a reduced risk of obesity, asthma, high blood pressure, and infections compared to those who are not breastfed.

Parents with diabetes face a higher likelihood of heart disease, but breastfeeding has demonstrated its capacity to mitigate this risk. Furthermore, breastfeeding has been documented to enhance the bonding experience and accelerate post-pregnancy weight loss. Most significantly, it offers a means to reduce one’s personal risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as breast and ovarian cancers.

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