Breastfeeding with Type 1 Diabetes
Note: This article is part of our library of resources for type 1 mothers. Check out more of our articles and personal stories for Type 1 Pregnancy.
For many moms with type 1 diabetes, giving birth is only a small part of their story of living beyond. Breastfeeding presents its own set of challenges and rewards for new mothers and as well as those who have done it before. Here is some information on how the basics of breastfeeding and how it may impact your type 1 diabetes management.
Recommendations about breastfeeding for all mothers, not just those with type 1:
- Breastfeeding has been shown to have short-term and long-term benefits for both mother and baby
- According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “All women, including those with diabetes, should be supported in attempts to breastfeed.”
- Research breastfeeding, the act of “expressing” and caregiving prior to delivery and know where you can go for support (your partner, your physician, etc.)
- Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for at least the first six months following delivery
- Clear and consistent communication with your diabetes team is crucial for a successfully planned conception, pregnancy and delivery
Moms with Type 1
It may come as no surprise that the medical community strongly advises closely monitoring blood glucose levels before, during and after pregnancy for mothers with all types of diabetes.
Women with type 1 have an increased risk for hypoglycemia during pregnancy and may experience less severe symptoms of hypoglycemia (also known as hypoglycemia unawareness). This is important because insulin sensitivity rises after giving birth and delivering the placenta.
Immediately After Birth
In the first minutes following delivery, babies born to mothers with diabetes can also have hypoglycemia. As a result of low blood glucose, newborns are then fed formula to raise and stabilize blood glucose levels.
Some women choose to express the milk their body produces prior to delivery and freeze it. By having the expressed (and thawed) milk on hand in the hospital, mothers can streamline the process of feeding their newborns with only breastmilk.
In the First Weeks
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reports that diabetes can delay lactation (Diabetes Voice). This can impact how much milk your body produces initially, although milk production may then improve over time. In addition to diabetes, stress and pain (both of which are affected by the essential breastfeeding hormone oxytocin) can affect the lactation process. Having a good rapport with your physician and diabetes team can help answer questions, ease uncertainty and pave over any initial breastfeeding bumps in the road.
Frequent blood glucose monitoring is important: the American Diabetes Association reports that many mothers experience lots of ups and downs in diabetes control after delivery.
Keep lows in check. Red blood cell turnover results in lower A1c levels during pregnancy and, since breastfeeding is an energy-consuming activity, it can cause low blood sugar just like any form of exercise. Make sure those around you know the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia and be prepared.
The Long Term
Giving birth is a major event that impacts every facet of life involved. Although it may take time for their bodies to adjust, mothers with type 1 who breastfeed can require less insulin and better manage their diabetes (Steube, Diabetes Voice).
Sleepless nights, blood sugar rollercoasters, new schedules, no schedules and everything else that comes with diabetes is magnified after having a baby. If you’re a new mother, ask for help—the more support you have when it comes to diabetes and breastfeeding and life with a newborn, the better you’ll be able to cope.
American Academy of Pediatrics: Breastfeeding FAQs
American Diabetes Association: After Delivery
American Diabetes Association. “Management of diabetes in pregnancy.” Diabetes Care, January 2016, vol. 39, Supplement 1, pp. S94–S98
Breastfeeding USA: Expressing Milk Before Birth: A Tool for Use in Special Circumstances
Steube, Allison. “Breastfeeding and diabetes—benefits and special needs.” Diabetes Voice, March 2007, vol. 52, issue 1, pp. 26-29
Read Breastfeeding Twins as a T1D Mom by Michelle S.