Your healthcare team will take extra steps to make sure you and your baby get off to a healthy start.
This will include checking your baby’s blood sugar levels about 2 to 4 hours after birth. This is not a test for diabetes, it's to make sure your baby’s blood sugar is not too low.
You might be worried that because you have diabetes, your baby will too. It’s natural to worry but rest assured, it’s very rare for a baby to develop diabetes. Having Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes does not increase your baby’s risk.
But having a close relative with diabetes does increase someone’s risk of developing diabetes later in life. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented but there are lots of things people can do to reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes.
What to expect after the birth
Every woman’s experience of giving birth is different, but it’s safe to say you’ll feel very tired afterwards. Your body will be recovering from the hard work of giving birth, and this may make your blood sugar levels harder to balance for a bit.
You may find it difficult to remember to check your blood sugar levels closely, but it’s important you get back into this routine soon after giving birth. Your healthcare team will support you with this and help you make certain adjustments.
You and your baby will be carefully looked after. Here are a few things you can expect to happen:
- All babies’ blood sugar levels drop after they’re born, so you’ll be encouraged to feed your baby within 30 minutes after they’re born and every 2 to 3 hours after that. This will help keep their blood sugar at a safe level.
- You and your baby’s blood sugar will be checked regularly. If your baby needs help with their blood sugar levels or they’re not feeding well, they may need a feeding tube or a drip.
- Your baby should stay with you unless they need specialist care due to possible complications
- You and your baby will have to stay in hospital for at least 24 hours. This is to make sure that your baby’s blood sugar levels are maintained and that they’re feeding well.
After you’ve given birth, you won’t be left alone to manage all of this. Your healthcare team is there to help and will talk you through all of this. They’ll also keep checking your blood sugar, until your levels get more stable.
Because of the risks involved, it’s important to be aware of the possible complications that can happen.
Because you’re more likely to have a larger baby, you may need to have a caesarean. If you have one, you’ll be given antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. Your doctor will give you advice about this, and let you know what to do if you think you have an infection.
If your baby’s blood sugar is dropping too low, has any breathing problems or any other problem, they will be moved to another ward for extra support. The doctors there can then give your baby the specialist attention they need.
Being pregnant and giving birth is already physically and emotionally exhausting, but when you have diabetes there’s even more to think about. All the tests, scans, appointments and the difficult conversations about possible complications – it can feel overwhelming.
Although many complications such as stillbirth are rare, unfortunately they can happen. There will be a team of people ready to support you every step of the way if this happens to you. It’s important to know about these risks so that you and the people close to you can be aware and prepared as much as is possible.
By preparing for pregnancy, taking care of yourself while you’re pregnant and getting support from your healthcare team all the way through, you can greatly reduce these risks.
You may need to adjust your medication now you’ve given birth. If you were taking insulin, you won’t need as much now so will need to adjust your dose.
You can usually go back to any medication you were taking before getting pregnant, but there’s different advice if you’re breastfeeding. The team will help you with this and make sure you’re taking the right medication.
If you want to breastfeed, there’s no reason why you can’t. It’s good for you and good for your baby. But not everyone wants to, and that’s okay too.
You might find breastfeeding a little difficult at first, especially if you have a larger baby or your baby needs extra feeds. It’s not easy for anyone straight away. With the support of your team, and with a little patience and practice, you should be able to get into a good breastfeeding routine.
Breastfeeding and your blood sugar levels
Breastmilk contains a type of sugar called lactose. Every time you feed your baby, you lose sugar. This means your blood sugar levels drop. This can mean that you need up to 25% less insulin if you’re breastfeeding.
It can also mean that you’re more likely to have a hypo during feeding, especially if you take insulin to treat your diabetes. It’s a good idea to have a snack close by when you’re breastfeeding, and have something to treat a hypo handy.
If you’re breastfeeding, your healthcare team will ask you to avoid medications that you stopped taking before your pregnancy, or soon after getting pregnant. Except glibenclamide – it’s safe to take this.
If you take metformin, you can usually keep taking it while breastfeeding.
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.
Looking after yourself when you go home
Like all new mothers, getting enough sleep is a challenge.
The best advice is to grab the opportunity for a sleep whenever your baby sleeps. Don’t feel guilty about it or feel you should be doing something else. It’s really important you get as much rest as possible when you can.
Once you’re home and back on your feet, it’s a good idea to start getting active. If you’ve gained some weight during your pregnancy, eating a healthy diet and getting more active will help you get to a healthy weight. Remember, having diabetes makes you more at risk of other serious health conditions like heart disease, so eating a healthy diet and getting active is even more important.
Here are some tips to stay healthy and to make sure you’re looking after your own needs, as well as your baby’s:
- Sleep whenever you can
- Eat healthy meals – ask for a referral to a dietitian if you need one
- Move more – start going on regular walks with the pram and building up the distance
- If you use insulin to treat your diabetes, check your blood sugar levels regularly
- Get support from others – from your healthcare team, your family and your friends
- Take time for you – whether that’s having a relaxing bath or reading a book, when you get the chance
- Keep your follow-up appointments – these should start within 6 to 8 weeks after the birth.
Looking after your baby and yourself can be tiring and stressful. It’s natural to feel down from time to time and some mothers can feel depressed after having a baby. But when you have diabetes to cope with too, everything can be overwhelming. Talk to your healthcare team if you’re feeling like this, they can talk you through it and get you the support you need.
And we’re here for you every step of the way. Talking about how you’re feeling can really help and be a good place to start. You can call our trained counsellors on our helpline if you have more questions or just want a chat. Or think about joining our online forum or a local support group.
And remember fertility returns rapidly after childbirth so it is important you don’t forget about using contraception whether you are breastfeeding or not.
Due to COVID-19, access to contraceptive and sexual health services is significantly reduced so it is now recommended that all maternity services provide contraception for you to take home before you are discharged from maternity services.
This will help you plan any future pregnancy and avoid short interpregnancy intervals to give yourself the best chance of a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby. You and your maternity team should discuss contraception prior to you giving birth so you can decide on your contraception method and avoid your discharge from hospital being delayed.
For further information about contraception services go to the Sexwise website.