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Making Breastfeeding Work for Diabetic Moms

“Breast milk is still best for your baby.” We’ve heard and seen it in various campaign ads, yet it can’t be overstated enough – especially if you happen to be a mother with a precious baby to take care of. Breastfeeding is now generally established as most beneficial for the health of both the child and the lactating mother. Its advantages over bottle feeding are incomparable.

Breastfeeding will give your infant a good head start on a healthy life. Apart from promoting better brain development, breast milk provides the nutrients that your baby needs and even protects them from illnesses. Studies show that breast-fed infants have much lower rates of ear infections, rashes, diarrhea, allergies, hospital admissions and other medical problems than babies that were fed formula.

When a mother breastfeeds her child, her antibodies are also transferred to the baby. This protects the baby from various diseases and illnesses. Around eighty percent of the cells in breast milk are cells that kill viruses, bacteria and fungi. Infant formula made from cow’s milk contains different types of protein than human milk does and doesn’t contain the right nutrients that babies need.

Breastfeeding also creates a special bond between mother and child. Unlike bottle feeding, breastfeeding makes the mother cuddle her baby closely numerous times each day. The infant will get a sense of security from this and will form a better attachment with the mother. Nursing is a source of comfort and warmth to a baby. The remarkable thing is that breastfeeding is not only positive for the babies, but also for the mothers. Breastfeeding is associated with less postpartum bleeding, and more importantly lowers the risk of getting cancer of the breasts and ovaries later in life. The stress-busting hormone oxytocin that a woman’s body releases during breastfeeding can also help a diabetic mom feel better physically and emotionally.

Diabetic? Not a Problem
By all means, all mothers should breastfeed – even those afflicted with a potentially debilitating illness like diabetes. If you’re diabetic and understandably concerned about breastfeeding, don’t fret. The good news is that even lactating women with diabetes can actually breastfeed. Unlike say HIV, diabetes cannot be passed on to the baby through the mother’s milk. In fact, diabetic mothers should be the most motivated of all to protect their newborns from developing the disease.

Taking the baby away from the mother prevents the infant from receiving colostrum – the first milk that appears in the breast at the end of pregnancy and during the early postpartum period. Compared to mature breast milk, colostrum has a higher content of proteins that aid the infant’s immune response. More importantly, studies have proven that breastfeeding a baby can help prevent the development of type 1 diabetes. Babies who breastfeed until at least six months will have a lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes, according to studies. Doctors generally recommend that mothers breastfeed their children for at least 12 months.

Breastfeeding is actually a must to help lower your child’s chances of diabetes due to genetic predisposition. Also,a study by the American Diabetes Association in 2006 showed that breastfeeding can make babies less likely to become obese, even if the mother is obese and has diabetes. Breastfeeding can also help maternal weight loss. This is particularly important because diabetic women need to maintain a healthy weight.

Eat the Right STAFF
The key is to have a dietary intake that supports the needs of a diabetic lactating woman. It is very important to monitor diet and lifestyle in order to regulate your condition. Breastfeeding means that you have to be extra careful with your nutrition, so be sure to see your doctor or dietitian to create a meal plan that will work for you. A registered dietitian’s role is to promote a healthy diet that meets the micro- and macronutrient needs of pregnancy.

Diabetic mothers should remember that the diabetic diet is a regular diet. To manage their illness properly, diabetics should enjoy a variety of food and emphasize cereals, breads and other whole grain products, vegetables and fruits. In fact there is a five letter word that will guide them in their diet management. They just need to remember the word “STAFF” and know what each letter stands for.

S is for sugar. Sugar serves as the fuel for our cells and is important in supporting life and our bodily processes. Foods rich in carbohydrates are common sources of sugar. Rice and bread are examples of complex carbohydrates while fruits, table sugar, honey and candies are classified as simple carbohydrates. Traditionally, the intake of simple carbohydrates among diabetics was frowned upon. But recent findings have revealed that it is not the type but rather the amount of carbohydrates which should be regulated per meal. Doing so helps in regulating blood sugar levels. Dietary carbohydrates from cereals, breads, other grain products, legumes, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and added sugar should provide 50 to 60 percent of the individual’s energy requirements.

T stands for time. Proper timing of meals especially carbohydrates is also critical to a successful arid effective blood sugar control. It is advised that the intake of carbohydrates be spread throughout the day. Small yet more frequent meals will be more beneficial especially for the breastfeeding mother to avoid fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

A is for amount. During lactation the amount of nutrients needed by a woman increases. A typical lactating mother usually needs an additional 500 calories above her usual nonpregnant calorie needs. Using the Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intake for Filipinos (RENI) as reference, vitamins such as A, C, and Folate are significantly increased as compared to when’a woman is not pregnant. There should also be minerals such as iron, iodine and cadmium in her diet. In order to meet those needs, there should be a variety of foods included in the daily diet.

F means fiber. Diabetic lactating mothers are encouraged to consume a variety of fiber-containing food such as those coming from whole grains and leafy vegetables. Not only does fiber improve bowel movements but it also helps control blood sugar levels and blood cholesterol levels.

Finally, the other F refers to fat. Fat intake for lactating mothers should be controlled. A high fat diet has been shown to affect the body’s ability to use insulin. Fat intake control also helps in weight loss especially among lactating mothers with weight problems. Lactating mothers should limit saturated fat and dietary cholesterol intake. Food from animal sources such as ham, bacon, etc. are rich in saturated fat and has lots of cholesterol and should be avoided. Also, stay away from trans-fatty acids or the form of fats when vegetable oils are made solid, since these are associated with bad cholesterol.

A well-balanced vegetarian diet can also be a healthy choice for people with diabetes. Vegetarian diets emphasize fiber-rich grains and vegetable proteins, both of which have been associated with lowering cholesterol levels and heart disease. But special attention is needed in planning a vegan diet. Following the “STAFF guideline” is a formula for success. Good nutrition means better and healthier milk production. Better milk production means good news for your baby. Practicing good nutrition is the fi’rst step to keeping breast milk in good supply. It will increase the nutritional value of the milk. If you eat better, then the baby gets healthier milk. Second, good nutrition will keep your body in top condition. A healthy body will produce more milk because it just works better all around.

From a diet and nutrition standpoint, there are two important factors critical to producing milk. The first is drinking enough fluid. It doesn’t have to be milk; water or juice is fine. It is also a good habit to drink lots of water. Ten to 12 glasses of fluid is recommended. Drinking sufficient fluids won’t make you produce more milk, but is important in replenishing lost fluids.

With very few exceptions, breast milk is the best source of nourishment for human infants – its benefits extending beyond basic nutrition.The longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefits will be for your baby and you, and the longer these benefits will last – even if you happen to have diabetes.

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