Mothers with Diabetes Can Have a Healthy Breastfeeding Experience

Breastfeeding offers a wealth of benefits both for mothers and their babies. Although diabetes can complicate the process, it does not prevent mothers from giving their babies this wonderful start to life, according to UT Southwestern endocrinologist Maria Ramos-Roman, M.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine.

Three common forms of diabetes are: type 1, an autoimmune condition that typically develops in youth; type 2, a condition that is traditionally diagnosed in adults but that also affects younger individuals; and gestational diabetes, which develops during pregnancy. About half of women who develop gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Diabetes can impact breastfeeding in a variety of ways, said Dr. Ramos-Roman. For example, it can lengthen the time before some mothers establish milk production. Breastfeeding can also change maternal blood sugar patterns throughout the day. Mothers who require medical therapy for diabetes may need less medication during breastfeeding to prevent dips in blood sugar.

To combat these issues, it’s especially important for mothers with diabetes to meet with a lactation consultant soon after birth and learn techniques to give their breastfeeding journey the best start. Mothers with diabetes should also continue to monitor blood sugar and discuss with their health care team how to adjust their medical treatment for diabetes during the postpartum period, said Dr. Ramos-Roman. Medications typically used to treat diabetes, such as insulin and metformin, are not harmful to breastfed babies and may be necessary for mothers to maintain proper glucose control. Similarly, sticking to a healthy diet can help stabilize blood sugar; diets typically recommended for pregnancy are also good for diabetic mothers, she added.

Dr. Ramos-Roman offered these additional tips for breastfeeding with diabetes:

  • Follow general recommendations to encourage healthy breastfeeding, such as nursing soon after birth, getting lots of skin-to-skin time with baby, and drinking lots of fluids.
  • Avoid the temptation to relax lifestyle changes you made during pregnancy to stay healthy after pregnancy.
  • Consult with your doctor to find out how often you should check your blood sugar and whether your medications need to be adjusted.
  • Mothers who develop gestational diabetes should be tested for diabetes between 1-3 months after delivery.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

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