Most people with gestational diabetes can safely nurse their infants. In fact, health agencies highly recommend it because it offers multiple advantages for both the birthing parent and child.

Benefits of nursing include a lower risk of future type 1 diabetes and overweight for the child. They also involve a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and breast cancer for the birthing parent.

Health experts urge individuals who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy to drink plenty of fluids while breastfeeding and to nurse several times daily in the beginning. If they have any issues producing milk, they need to contact a healthcare professional.

Keep reading to learn more about gestational diabetes and breastfeeding, including the risks, benefits, tips, alternatives to breastfeeding, and questions to ask a doctor.

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Yes, after a person with gestational diabetes gives birth, nursing is safe. It offers health benefits for the birthing parent and infant.

Unless an infant is born with specific health concerns relating to uncontrolled gestational diabetes, nursing should not involve any increased risks. For example, some babies born early may have a less-developed sucking reflex. This can make nursing more difficult.

According to a 2021 observational cohort study, the potential for the above risks may not affect everyone with gestational diabetes. Among 1,089 participants, the researchers found no difference in nursing duration between those with and those without gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

If nursing is possible, it offers benefits for both the birthing parent and baby. They include the following:

Benefits for baby

Infants who nurse have a lower risk of developing the following:

Additionally, babies born to a parent with diabetes or gestational diabetes may have low blood sugar. An effective treatment option is early nursing and skin-to-skin contact with either parent.

Benefits for a parent

Nursing has links to lower rates of the following:

Nursing can also help the person’s uterus contract back to its typical size more quickly.

In the last few weeks of pregnancy, a person may wish to express some of their early milk. They can save this milk for bottle feeding just in case the baby is unable to latch after birth.

Additionally, the ADA provides the following nursing tips for parents with diabetes or gestational diabetes:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Nurse as soon as possible after delivery.
  • Be patient and stay relaxed while the milk comes in.
  • Nurse several times daily in the beginning.
  • Prioritize skin-to-skin contact.

Nursing does not work for everyone, and being unable to does not mean that the birthing parent has done anything wrong. There are several other options people can use to feed their babies.

Formula feeding

Bottle feeding with formula is a popular and convenient alternative to nursing. While it does not offer the multiple health benefits of breastfeeding, experts emphasize that ensuring an infant is well-fed should be a parent’s priority.

Donor milk

An individual who cannot breastfeed their baby may also get milk from another person who is nursing. It is essential to ensure that the milk comes from someone who is free of contagious diseases and that it has undergone safe handling and storage.

A safe source involves human milk banks, which collect milk from donors. Experts approve of the use of milk banks but urge avoidance of internet-based milk-sharing sites.

Other alternatives

Once infants reach 12 months old, it is permissible to feed them whole cow’s milk.

Milk alternatives from plants — such as soy, oat, and almond milk — may also be acceptable. A person can speak to their doctor or pediatrician before using these options.

These include:

  • What can I do about specific problems, such as a baby’s sucking response issues or a lack of milk supply?
  • How long should I nurse?
  • How can I provide milk for my child after returning to work?
  • If I cannot nurse, what kind of infant formula is best for my baby?
  • Where can I find additional information or help regarding feeding?

Experts strongly recommend that people with gestational diabetes nurse if they can. It provides various benefits for the baby and parent, including a reduced risk of various health conditions.

Alternatives to breastfeeding involve bottle feeding with either a formula or milk from a milk bank. Once a baby is 12 months old, a parent or caregiver may introduce cow’s milk or plant milk.