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I often hear women with diabetes say they can't breast feed, but the truth is many health care professionals feel women should-because of their diabetes. Breast feeding is thought to decrease the autoimmune process that attacks the pancreas and causes diabetes, and may reduce your child's chances of getting diabetes.
Breast feeding can have an impact on all types of diabetes. Recent research shows declined rates of diabetes in breast-fed offspring of women with type I diabetes. Breast feeding also appears to reduce the incidence of gestational diabetes for daughters of women who were gestational themselves.
A third way breast feeding can impact diabetes is by reducing the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in women who had gestational diabetes. In order to reap these benefits, women should try to breast feed for at least three months, and some studies out of Finland suggest breast feeding for up to a year.
In addition, women who breast feed will generally see fewer illnesses in their children, especially ear infections.
One problem women with diabetes may encounter with breast feeding is difficulty with the initiation of the feedings. In hospitals, diabetic mothers tend to get separated from their babies for exams or problems. This can delay the beginning of breast feeding and make it harder to start.
Mothers are advised not to breast feed if they are on medication that would pass to the baby, if they have had breast surgery, or if the baby can't breast feed due to breathing problems or a cleft palate.
If you are on or starting any medication, check with your health care provider to see if it affects breast feeding or if it can be passed on to your baby and cause possible problems. Oral hypoglycemic agents are not recommended.
It is usually suggested that women stay on insulin while breast feeding. I have seen women that have used tolbutamide, but studies have shown that low levels of the drug are excreted in breast milk.
Concerns for the Mom
Diabetes control will be affected by breast feeding. Breast milk is made mostly of lactose sugar, but if you have elevated sugars, they will pass to your baby. Breast feeding can also cause low blood sugars, especially between meals, and it is recommended that snacks be eaten before nursing and insulin adjusted as needed. Usually women need about 25% less insulin when breast feeding.
Breast feeding women must adjust their diabetes care with their child's growth spurts (usually 2 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and whenever your child decides to grow). The introduction of solids and weaning will usually mean the mother needs to increase insulin dosage and decrease the amount of food she eats.
Diabetes can increase the chance of breast infections, so any signs or symptoms should immediately be reported and treated. Good diabetes control will lower the incidence of these infections. But, if diabetes management is not under control, breast feeding may make the disease worse.
No matter what you choose, enjoy your baby.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.