August is National Breastfeeding Month, established in 2011 by the United States Breastfeeding Committee to help achieve their mission “to improve the Nation’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding rates in the United States are on the rise. In 2011, 79 percent of all U.S. babies were breast-fed.
The experience of breastfeeding can be special for many reasons. But if you’re a mom out there with type 1 or 2 diabetes, or who developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you may have a lot of questions. No worries—in honor of this month, we’re here to offer some answers!
Here are our top five questions about breastfeeding and diabetes:
1. What are the benefits of breastfeeding for me as a mom?
Breastfeeding is good for any mother, with or without diabetes, as it can help you recover after birth. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, will help a mom feel better physically and emotionally.
It may also help you lose any weight you gained during pregnancy, although you shouldn’t try to lose it too quickly. While breastfeeding, it’s important that you get the right amounts of fluids, protein, vitamins and minerals. Develop a meal plan with a dietician that will allow you to achieve gradual weight loss and still be successful at breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can also decrease a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes—and the longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk.
2. What about the benefits of breastfeeding for my baby?
Breast milk is widely considered to be the most beneficial source of nutrients and vitamins for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months after birth, followed by continued breastfeeding with other foods for at least a full year.
Studies have shown breastfeeding can also help protect newborns from certain illnesses, including high respiratory infections, high blood pressure, asthma, atopy (a disorder marked by the tendency to develop allergic reactions) and type 2 diabetes.
3. Should I be worried about breastfeeding affecting my diabetes management? What about the medications I take?
Breastfeeding is good for women with diabetes, but it may make your blood glucose a little harder to predict. To help prevent low blood glucose levels due to breastfeeding, try these tips:
- Plan to have a snack before or during nursing.
- Drink enough fluids (plan to sip a glass of water or another caffeine-free drink while nursing).
- Keep something to treat low blood glucose nearby when you nurse, so you don’t have to stop a feeding to treat a low.
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and use either insulin or other blood glucose lowering-medications, it’s important to understand the safety of these medications while breastfeeding. Most medications used to treat diabetes can be safely used during breastfeeding. But check with your doctor to find out if your medications are okay to continue using while breastfeeding.
4. Can I breastfeed if I had gestational diabetes?
Yes! In fact, it is highly recommended that moms with gestational diabetes breastfeed as well (unless your health care provider advises otherwise), as it can help lower blood glucose levels in the period soon after birth.
A recent study shows evidence that breastfeeding mothers with gestational diabetes have improved lipid and blood glucose levels for the first three months after their baby is born.
Another recent study presented at the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions in June found that women diagnosed with gestational diabetes could lower their risk for later developing type 2 diabetes by breastfeeding. Those who breastfed exclusively lowered their risk by 50 percent, while those who breastfed most of the time but used some formula lowered their risk by 26 percent.
5. What if I’m not able to breastfeed or don’t feel comfortable?
Breastfeeding may not be possible for all women, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not able to. For many moms, the decision to breastfeed or formula-feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle and specific medical considerations.
Whatever your decision, make sure it is the right one for you and your child. For women who are able to breastfeed or who would like to, now is a great time to learn more about the benefits of this part of new motherhood.
Want to share your own breastfeeding experiences? Leave a comment below!