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Breastfeeding and Diabetes

Posted on July 20, 2021 | No Comments on Breastfeeding and Diabetes

What is the relationship between breastfeeding and diabetes?

Among the many possible concerns of new mothers, especially those with diabetes mellitus or those with a strong family history of diabetes, is the effect of breastfeeding on diabetes. Questions such as “will breastfeeding diabetic mothers pass on the diabetes to the baby” and, in view of the many beneficial effects of breastfeeding, “will breastfeeding prevent diabetes” have been asked.

As far as passing on the diabetes to the baby is concerned, there is no evidence that this can be passed on by breastfeeding. Several studies looked into the question of whether breastfeeding can increase the likelihood of developing antibodies that can destroy the insulinproducing cells in the pancreas which can, in turn, lead to Type 1 diabetes. No association has been found and the results of these different studies have led to the conclusion that breastfeeding does not increase the babies’ chance of getting Type 1 diabetes.

Now, can it prevent diabetes? Current data appears to show a positive benefit in this regard, for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The early exposure to infant formula or cow’s milk, considered as below 3 months of age, has been linked to a higher incidence of Type 1 diabetes. It seems that the protein in cow’s milk may trigger the formation of antibodies directed against insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Thus, in high-risk babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended exclusive breastfeeding and the avoidance of cow’s milk and products containing cow’s milk protein for the first year of life. Considered high-risk are those babies with a diabetic mom or dad, those with diabetic siblings, or those with a strong family history of diabetes.

With regards to Type 2 diabetes, the more common type of diabetes, breastfeeding also appears to have a preventive effect. Up to 30 percent of diabetes in children is now of the Type 2 variety which is usually seen in adults. This increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes has been largely attributed to the higher prevalence of childhood obesity. Breastfeeding is-associated with lower rates of childhood obesity; hence, by encouraging breastfeeding, we may potentially decrease the number of obese children, and ultimately, diabetes as well.

Some diabetic mothers may be hesitant to breastfeed because of perceived difficulties with controlling their diabetes if they breastfeed. Well, breastfeeding requires more energy which leads to more carbohydrates being used up. Food intake may have to be increased to meet the higher energy requirements, as well as to avoid low sugar episodes. Weight gain will not usually be an issue, and some studies even suggest that women who breastfeed may have a tendency to lose weight because their metabolism is faster.

Mothers who breastfeed will also require a lower dose of insulin compared to those who bottle feed, sometimes by up to 30 percent. Those back on oral medications may also need a downward adjustment in their dose. Thus, with periodic sugar monitoring, and by working closely with their doctors, diabetic mothers should be able to attain reasonable control of their diabetes while they breastfeed their newborn.

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