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How diabetes affects breastfeeding: local women share their experiences

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As World Breastfeeding Week kicks off (1 – 7 August 2023), parents from the Bristol Diabetes Support Network speak out about their experiences of breastfeeding while managing their diabetes. Read on to get their tips, supported by our in-house clinical team.

If you have diabetes and you want to breastfeed, there’s no reason why you can’t try. It has health benefits for you and your baby but it’s important to seek support and advice about this. Breastfeeding might not be right for everyone, and that’s OK too. 

Breastfeeding and insulin 

Breastfeeding uses up energy as breast milk contains lactose, a form of sugar. So if you are on insulin, it’s important you seek advice from your healthcare team. You may need to reduce your insulin dose and they can provide you with advice about this. It’s important to monitor your blood glucose levels more regularly when you’re breastfeeding as your glucose levels could go too low whilst you feed.

Test your glucose levels before each feed and have snacks containing carbs close by, to eat as necessary. It’s important to keep hydrated (but limit your intake of caffeine) and eat a healthy balanced, diet too. 

Breastfeeding and medication 

If you take medication, it’s really important to talk to your healthcare team about your plans to breastfeed as soon as possible. This will help make sure that you’re on medications that are safe for your baby. If you take metformin, you can usually keep taking it while breastfeeding. It’s important to eat a healthy balanced diet and keep hydrated but limit your intake of caffeine. 

You’re not a failure if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you. Kate lives with type 1 and breastfed her baby. She wants women living with diabetes to know that they’re not a failure if breastfeeding doesn’t work for them. She said:

"Women with diabetes can breastfeed, but I don't think any woman should be made to feel bad about themselves if breastfeeding doesn't work for them. In my experience, medical professionals, and others, can sometimes create a 'good diabetic versus bad diabetic' narrative. 'Good' diabetics are those who achieve certain targets, 'bad' diabetics are those who don't. If you then link this to the common discourses about 'good' mothers being those who breastfeed, it could make some mums with diabetes feel like failures."

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re managing your diabetes alongside a new-born baby. If you need support, our confidential, diabetes helpline can support you.

Be prepared 

Hannah lives with type 1 and also breastfed her baby. She said of her experience:

"Breastfeeding can use a lot of calories, so I needed to adjust my insulin down while feeding or eat a lot of cake! I wasn’t a massive cake fan and I’m still not, but I couldn’t get enough when I was breastfeeding. It’s handy to have snacks with you. In the early days I had a little bag with hypo stuff, snacks, my phone and the TV remote so if I was feeding, I had everything I needed."

Elisabeth lives with type 1 and is currently breastfeeding her youngest daughter. She said: 

"One thing I had to think about when breastfeeding with type 1 was avoiding hypos, particularly in the early days when my baby was cluster feeding and my body was still adjusting. After having to keep such tight control of my diabetes during pregnancy, the drop in insulin requirements was dramatic, and I found I needed to eat lots to keep my levels from falling. Keeping supplies of snacks and hypo treatments wherever I found myself feeding was essential. On the plus side, it was nice to have a bit more freedom about what I could eat."

If you’re in the early stages of thinking about trying for a baby, planning is really important.

Consider diabetes tech 

Elisabeth said: 

"Although I can manage to do most things while breastfeeding, doing my injections one handed is too tricky! I've now asked to move on to a pump as I'm hoping that it will help me keep on top of mealtime doses more easily. My experience of breastfeeding has been challenging at times, particularly in the early days but now I love how easy it is to always be able to feed and comfort my daughter wherever we might be."

New to diabetes tech? Watch our webinar and learn how diabetes tech can support diabetes management.

Seek support

Your healthcare team can support you on your breastfeeding journey and there are also local groups which can provide additional support. Hannah sought out a breastfeeding support group in her area and said they provided “invaluable support and information”.

Elisabeth added:

"For any other women with diabetes out there who are thinking about breastfeeding, I'd say to go for it and just make sure that you ask for help if you need it. Having been monitored so closely in pregnancy, it felt daunting being left largely to my own devices after birth. I've always managed my diabetes fairly independently but when you're not getting much sleep, having a fresh pair of eyes can be really helpful."

Did you know we have local support groups for people living with diabetes? Find out if there's a group in your area

Next Review Date
Next review due
28 April 2024
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