Ahead of World Breastfeeding Week (1 – 7 August), a diabetes expert explains why breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for new mothers with diabetes, including gestational diabetes, and helps prevent their newborns from having a hypoglycaemic episode.
While some women are concerned about breastfeeding if they have any form of diabetes, it is in fact helpful in controlling the blood-sugar of both mother and baby, says Dr Amani Osman, a consultant paediatric diabetologist from Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC), part of Mubadala’s network of world-class healthcare providers.
Dr Amani says research has shown that a combination of breastfeeding – preferably within the first hour – and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth help to avoid problems.
“A newborn can be prone to low blood glucose levels, known as hypoglycaemia, particularly if the mother’s blood glucose control was poor during pregnancy,” Dr Amani explains.
“The reason is that the extra insulin the baby will have produced in response to the mother’s high glucose levels means that the baby’s glucose levels are prone to drop after birth, so early and frequent breastfeeding can help to stabilize the blood sugar.”
Dr Amani says that there are usually two concerns for new mothers with diabetes; whether their medication will affect their baby, and how diabetes affects milk production.
“While patients should always speak to their doctors first, as a general rule of thumb, any medication that was fine to take during pregnancy will be fine during nursing,” Dr Amani says. “Insulin molecules, for example, are too large to pass into your milk”.
She acknowledges that mothers with diabetes can find that their milk comes out too slowly, but says a knowledgeable lactation specialist will be able to help with this.
Dr Amani adds that nursing mothers with diabetes should also speak to their doctors to determine whether their medication needs to be adjusted, as breastfeeding can lower the mother’s blood glucose by up to 25%.