The Facts on Breastfeeding and Diabetes
By Gwen Morrison
You want to breastfeed your baby, but as a diabetic mom, you wonder if nursing will worsen your symptoms or somehow harm your baby. Jolene Porter, RNC, IBCLC, from Exeter New Hampshire, relieves those worries by telling moms that they can successfully breastfeed even when they are diabetic.
Diabetes is classified as the body’s inability to produce enough insulin. Insulin is required by the body to regulate your blood sugar levels. “Breastfeeding has a positive effect on [Mom's] blood sugars,” says Porter. “Some diabetic moms need less insulin while they are nursing.” It is beneficial for both Mom and Baby, in most cases.
Clinical research has shown that mother’s milk may even lessen the chances of passing on diabetes to babies who are at an increased risk.
“My blood sugars remained in check easier,” says Andrea Duval of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a mother and the co-founder of Moms4Momsmilk, a grassroots organization dedicated to informing others about breastfeeding. “I am still nursing my 3-year-old, and I even pumped.”
Clinical research has shown that mother’s milk may even lessen the chances of passing on diabetes to babies who are at an increased risk. The US Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., reports in their Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding that most studies on infant feeding have found lower rates in chronic diseases among children who were breastfed. It also states that recent findings suggest that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
“Babies born to diabetic mothers are at an increased risk for diabetes themselves,” says Porter. “These babies need to be breastfed for the added protection that breast milk gives.”
As per diabetic protocol at Duval’s hospital, right after delivery her daughter was whisked away to the Special Care nursery to be monitored for 24 hours. “I made it clear to the nurses that I didn’t want my daughter to have ANY formula, especially since they could control her blood glucose levels with the IV,” says Duval. “I also made it clear to the nurses that they were to call me if Heather was hungry.”
Duval is certain that her frequent nursing in the first few days is what stabilized her daughter’s blood glucose level so quickly.
Moms need to be diligent about keeping in close contact with their nutritionist and physician while breastfeeding. “They need extra energy intake—about 35 to 45 kcal/kg or 400 more calories a day,” says Porter. “Diabetic breastfeeding moms need to follow their caloric increase needs closely. Calorie needs change according to how much the baby is nursing. Moms need to eat healthy diets and make sure they eat frequent meals.”
Porter wants to stress to moms who are breastfeeding how important it is to monitor their blood sugars closely. “Low blood sugars can be dangerous for both Mom and Baby,” she says. “Moms who experience low blood sugars may not letdown as well, and their babies run the risk of losing weight. According to recommendations, moms need to eat 20 percent from protein, 40 to 60 percent form carbohydrates and 30 to 40 percent from fruits.”
Dr. Frances Dauterive from the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tells breastfeeding moms that they need to be aware of the increasing metabolism and decreasing insulin requirement. “She needs to maintain careful control at all times to avoid low blood sugar throughout the day,” Dr. Dauterive says. “Adequate intake of fluids and calories is important.”
Diabetic moms who are nursing can ensure a healthy diet and caloric intake by eating generous amounts of whole foods. “Whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and dairy and meat products from healthy animals,” says Cynthia Lair, a certified health and nutrition counselor and the author of Feeding the Whole Family. “Avoid products that contain refined sugars, fructose, and corn syrup. Limit processed foods with white flour and poor quality fats.”
If Mom is Hospitalized
“Any mother who is admitted for glucose monitoring must advocate for herself to keep her baby with her,” says Porter. “She not only needs to do this for her baby, but for herself. If the frequency of her breastfeeding changes, she will run the risk of a decreased milk supply.”
It isn’t often that diabetic moms are admitted to the hospital, but on the rare occasion when there is a serious problem, such as an infection, it is important to know what to do to ensure lactation continues.
The Ultimate Benefit
In La Leche League’s pamphlet, The Diabetic Mother and Breastfeeding, it states that some diabetic mothers have enjoyed a partial remission of their symptoms while breastfeeding, as well as an increase in overall health. After the birth, hormones that trigger lactation also allow physiological and metabolic changes in the body to progress more gradually. Nursing contributes to this slow metabolic adjustment, because the mother continues to support both herself and her baby.
A diabetic mother’s body is in a delicate balance that can easily be disturbed by stress factors, and breastfeeding is a key element in reducing stress.