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Women with diabetes must breastfeed their children without fear of transmitting diabetes to them through their breast milk.

By Dr Aditya Hegde

During pregnancy, around 14 percent of women develop gestational diabetes or diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes often get advice from their known ones to avoid breastfeeding their children. But should women with diabetes avoid breastfeeding? No! Breastfeeding helps to manage blood sugar levels in women with gestational diabetes.  Furthermore, breastfeeding has lasting effects that reduce a woman’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for both mother and child. Despite various benefits, only around 55 percent of the babies are exclusively breastfed during the first six months. The benefits of breastfeeding are significantly more for women with diabetes. However, along with the advantages of breastfeeding, there may be some challenges for women with diabetes.

What are the perks of breastfeeding for women with diabetes?

Breastfeeding is advantageous for both the nursing mother and the infant. Breastfeeding renders enduring advantages and can lower the risk of developing certain health conditions in life for both of them. For mothers with diabetes, breastfeeding can also help them manage their blood glucose levels and prevent them from further developing complications.

Benefits of breastfeeding for women:

Breastfeeding has significantly reduced the risk of developing various health conditions in women, such as:

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes Mellitus

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Osteoporosis

  • Breast Cancer

  • Ovarian Cancer

  • Uterine Cancer

Apart from preventing various health ailments, breastfeeding also induces oxytocin secretion that helps new moms relax and reduce the risk of developing Postpartum depression.

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Benefits of breastfeeding for women with diabetes:

“Mother’s milk is the best food for a baby, contraindications of vitamins and prednisone ” according to the Word Health Organisation, which has been encouraging women to breastfeed. Women with diabetes must breastfeed their children. Breastfeeding not just helps create a bond between you and your child but also facilitates weight loss. Weight loss is essential to manage blood sugar levels. Apart from reducing weight, breastfeeding also helps burn additional calories, reducing the need for insulin administration in women with diabetes. Breastfeeding also lengthens the time for resumption of the menstrual cycle. Delayed resumption of the menstrual cycle prevents hormonal changes, thus making it easy to control blood sugar levels.

What care should women with diabetes take while breastfeeding?

While breastfeeding has numerous benefits, women with diabetes must take special care during this phase. While breastfeeding burns your calories, women with diabetes must ensure that their blood glucose levels do not fall too low. Also, women with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing mastitis or inflammation of the breast. To avoid mastitis, women must feed their children from both their breasts. Also, they should notify their doctor at the earliest if they suspect any infection.

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Can breastfeeding transfer diabetes to your child?

No! On the contrary, breastfeeding protects them. Breast milk is the best thing a baby can have. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of a child developing diabetes in later life. Also, breast milk protects them from acquiring infections or developing other health conditions that may lead to diabetes.

What tips can be followed by women with diabetes to ease their breastfeeding experience?

Breastfeeding can sometimes be challenging, especially for women with diabetes. A few tips that women with diabetes must ensure while breastfeeding to make it easier are:

  • Eat a snack before or during breastfeeding.

  • Keep an emergency snack near the area where you frequently feed your child.

  • Check your blood sugar levels before nursing your child.

  • Avoid stress.

  • Regularly check for mastitis or an infection in your breast.

  • Drink a lot of fluids to stay hydrated.

  • Initiate breastfeeding soon after delivery.

Women with diabetes must breastfeed their children without fear of transmitting diabetes to them through their breast milk. Lactating women must follow a diet plan that provides them with good nutrition.

(The writer is M.B.B.S, MD, DNB Endocrinology, Manipal Hospital Bangalore)

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