Breastfeeding with diabetes – everything you need to know

Posted on October 10th, 2018

The good news is, yes you can! We asked a dietitian with type 1 diabetes to share her top tips for breastfeeding success. By Tammy Jacks

Breastfeeding with diabetes

Wondering if and how you can breastfeed with diabetes? The truth is, you absolutely can. In fact, according to the International Diabetes Council, if you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, breastfeeding can help to manage the disease and prevent further complications. There’s also no risk to your baby or any chance of transferring the disease.

Breastfeeding may also lengthen the amount of time until your menstrual cycle returns. This is good news for diabetics, because your menstrual cycle brings a hormonal change that make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels.

However, as a diabetic, there are a few factors you may need to consider throughout your breastfeeding journey, explains registered dietitian and Type 1 diabetic, Jessica Oosthuizen.

ALSO SEE: 10 frequently asked breastfeeding questions answered

The link between breastfeeding and hypoglycaemia

Because breastfeeding helps to burn additional calories, you might not need to administer as much insulin as you typically would have before nursing. While this is good news for diabetics, a blood sugar level drop could also raise your risk of hypoglycaemia – which occurs when there’s an abnormally low level of sugar, or glucose, in the blood, explains Jessica.

Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include:

  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart.

It’s important to avoid the risk of hypoglycaemia as far as possible.

Here’s how to keep your blood sugar levels stable:

Breastfeeding places huge demands on your body and requires a varied diet with plenty of nutrients to produce enough good-quality breastmilk for your growing baby. With this in mind, Jessica says that your meal plan should consist of 40% carbohydrates, with a special focus on high-fibre, low-glycaemic and unrefined carbohydrates like oats, brown rice and sweet potato.

Additionally, 40% of the energy your body requires should come from fats, with at least half coming from unsaturated fats (avocado and olives) and the other 20% should come from protein, she adds. “It’s also important to eat consistently and plan to eat your meals and snacks at regular intervals. This will help to avoid any drops in blood sugar levels,” she says.

ALSO SEE: Your breastfeeding nutrition guide

Plan meals in advance

When it comes to eating a healthy diet throughout your breastfeeding journey, the key is to prep and plan ahead so there’s always a host of healthy snacks and meals to munch on if you’re hungry.

Follow these guidelines when you’re planning ahead:

  • Eat plenty of high-fibre grain products such as rolled oats, brown/wild rice, barley and legumes
  • Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. A variety of colours are important.
  • Include low-fat dairy products to ensure you’re meeting your calcium requirements.
  • Eat fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout at least twice a week to ensure you meet your omega-3 requirements.
  • Drink enough fluid – aim for two to three litres of water per day. This is especially important when breastfeeding as you want to avoid dehydration at all costs.
  • Limit caffeine to one or two cups of coffee per day.

TOP TIP: “It’s important to note that if you snack on carbohydrate-rich foods in between your meals, you’ll need to adjust your insulin to cover the effect this will have on your blood sugar levels,” says Jessica.

Jessica is a registered dietitian at Nutritional Solutions, based in Johannesburg. If you’d like more information or to book her for a consult, visit www.nutritionalsolutions.co.za.