How Diabetes Affects Breastfeeding

Many breastfeeding mothers these days have diabetes as several moms have pre existing and gestational diabetes. A breastfeeding mom who has diabetes should eat a balanced diet which is divided into many small meals because this health condition is greatly affected by diet: the amount and type of food being consumed. In this article, we discuss several types of diabetes, effects of diabetes on breastfeeding, and ways to manage this condition while breastfeeding.

Types of Diabetes

The baby is at risk for health problems when the mother has diabetes. Mothers with this condition have high levels of blood sugar, which can lead to serious health problems over time if not managed properly. You need to know and understand more about several types of diabetes so that you are able to know how to properly manage your diabetes according to its type. Take note of the following:

Gestational Diabetes

This type of diabetes occurs when mothers are pregnant and this condition often disappears after they give birth. It happens when there is a rise in blood sugar due to the stress the baby causes while growing inside the mother’s womb. After the mother gives birth to the baby, blood sugar probably turns back to normal and the breast milk is not affected. However, women with this condition tend to have an increased incidence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes when they get older. 

Studies have shown that 50-60% of women with gestational diabetes develop permanent diabetes later in life. In order to minimize the risk of having diabetes, it is very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle as you include regular exercise and weight control. If you already have this condition, you can reduce your risk of permanent diabetes or delay its development by keeping your body weight in an ideal range and by exercising regularly. 

Also, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a recent study and revealed that lactation itself may provide protection against diabetes. The research study observed the rate of diabetes in breastfeeding women in the ongoing study conducted by other hospitals as they saw that there was a lower incidence of diabetes among the women who had breastfed their babies.

Insulin Dependent Diabetes

Also known as Type 1 Diabetes, insulin-dependent diabetes is a type of diabetes in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is an essential hormone necessary to allow sugar or glucose to enter cells to generate energy. Women who acquired this condition have an increased risk for hypoglycemia during pregnancy and may experience less severe symptoms of hypoglycemia. If you have this type of diabetes, you need to closely monitor your blood glucose levels at all times. 

Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes

This health condition is also referred to as Type 2 diabetes which means there is an impairment in the way the body regulates and utilizes sugar or glucose as body fuel. Women with non-insulin-dependent diabetes or Type 2 diabetes sometimes find that there is a delay with their breast milk coming in. Consult your midwife or lactation expert to discuss with you the option of antenatal expressing and storing colostrum.

Effects of Diabetes on Breastfeeding

So, what are the potential effects of diabetes on breastfeeding? There are numerous research studies about this matter. In this part, we highlight the major effects of having this health condition while moms are breastfeeding:

  • The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) states that diabetes can delay lactation as it can influence how much milk your body produces initially, although the production of milk may then change for good over time. 
  • Blood sugar or glucose levels that are out of range can contribute to the amount of your breast milk production. So, it is very crucial for breastfeeding moms to normalize their blood sugar at all times in order to maintain a continuous breast milk supply by eating a balanced and nutritious diet and drinking double the amount of fluids as you did while you’re pregnant. 
  • Your baby may have a tendency to have a less-developed sucking reflex if you have gestational diabetes because you are more likely to develop pregnancy issues like preterm pre-eclampsia. It is a condition that can lead to preterm labor and preterm birth. A baby who is born prematurely will have a less-developed sucking reflex as it can make it harder to impossible for the baby to breastfeed properly. 

Ways to Manage Diabetes Properly While Breastfeeding

There are some ways that you can manage your diabetes properly while you are breastfeeding your little one. Here are some of them:

  • Consult a registered dietitian or diabetes educator for specific nutrition recommendations that are coordinated with your physician’s care plan. Your goal is to prevent high blood sugar while avoiding low blood sugar. Some of the glucose that would normally circulate in the mother’s blood is now being used to make up part of her milk supply so mothers with diabetes will need less insulin and their blood sugar levels will be lower. It is important to stabilize your blood sugar levels to avoid very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). 
  • Eat meals at prescribed times. If you exercise, eat more and always carry a quick-eating carbohydrate like sugar packets or glucose tablets. Other nursing diabeteic mothers find that they need to lower their night dose of insulin to prevent hypoglycemia.
  • Breastfeeding moms may meet their needs on as little as 1,800 calories daily. 
  • If you have Type 1 diabetes, you should not go for more than three hours without something to eat. 
  • If you overeat by eating half your recommended calories in one sitting, your blood sugar level may rise too high so a gentle walk or light activity may help decrease your blood sugar level.
  • To keep your blood sugar stable, you may need a carbohydrate-containing snack before and during breastfeeding. Remember that the diabetic diet starts with about 50% of total calories as carbohydrates. 
  • Ask for a reliable team of people to support you after giving birth which includes a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant will help you establish breastfeeding, along with postpartum doulas to help you with infant feeding while you are recovering after birth. 
  • Learn how to use a breast pump properly so that you can express milk. If it takes time for your little one to learn how to latch efficiently, or if you want to pump to establish or maintain your milk supply, you can use a hand pump or a hospital-grade pump to empty your breasts.


Breastfeeding moms who have diabetes need to eat consciously by consuming the right amount of foods at the right times every day. Also, you will be glad to learn that breastfeeding may protect your baby from developing the disease based on numerous research studies that repeatedly demonstrate the protective effect of breast milk. Another thing that you need to consider when breastfeeding with this condition is to not ignore sore, cracked nipples or signs of mastitis because diabetes increases the risk of body infection. Call your doctor or health care provider immediately if you suspect any type of infection in your breasts.