Feeding your baby and gestational diabetes

If you have gestational diabetes, you will need to feed your baby as soon as you can after birth, and then frequently after that.

After your baby is born, you should start feeding them as soon as you can (within half an hour). You should then feed them at least every 2–3 hours after that. This will help your baby’s blood sugar (glucose) stay at a safe level.

There is no reason why you can’t breastfeed your baby if you have gestational diabetes. It is safe and can help protect their future health. 

If you’ve had gestational diabetes, your baby may be at greater risk of obesity and diabetes in later life. But breastfeeding can reduce these risks, as well as lowering their risk of some infections, asthma and heart disease.

Breastfeeding comes easily to some, but not to others. The hospital staff, midwife or health visitor can support you if it’s what you choose to do.

Colostrum harvesting and gestational diabetes

Colostrum is the first breast milk that your body makes. It is very thick and yellow, and contains all that your baby needs in the first few days after birth. 

Because their stomach is so small, your baby will only need a small amount at a time. But they may want to feed quite often (maybe every hour).

You can collect and freeze this milk during the last few weeks of your pregnancy. This is known as ‘colostrum harvesting’. 

Colostrum harvesting can be helpful if you have diabetes. Some people can have trouble breastfeeding, which can make it hard to keep their baby’s blood sugar at a safe level. If your baby needs extra feeds, you can use any colostrum you have stored instead of (or as well as) formula milk.

If you want to harvest your colostrum, you can start hand expressing for a few minutes once a day from 36 weeks. Do not use a breast pump until after you have given birth.

You can ask your healthcare team for more information about this.

When your milk comes in

Your milk ‘comes in’ about 3 days after birth and you can then express by hand or use a breast pump. Some people find this hard, but your midwife or health visitor can support you with this.

If your baby needs extra care, the equipment might make it harder to breastfeed. Different healthcare professionals have different approaches, but you should be given support with breastfeeding. Talk to the midwives if you feel you need more support than you’re getting.

If your baby is too small or sick to breastfeed, you may need to start expressing so you can get your milk supply going. This will help you to start breastfeeding when you and your baby are ready. 

There is equipment that can help you, and some hospitals have staff that can provide one-to-one support.

Formula feeding

Some people have trouble breastfeeding, are unable to, or choose not to. No matter your reasons, you shouldn’t feel – or be made to feel – guilty or pressured if you decide to use formula. Your baby needs you to stay healthy and happy, not stressed or worried. 

Read more about formula feeding

Whichever method of feeding you choose, the midwives are there to support you and your baby. They will want to make sure you have the information and support you need to make an informed choice.

See all our information on feeding your baby.

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National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2020). Diabetes in pregnancy: management from preconception to the postnatal period. NICE guideline 3. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng3 (Accessed January 2024) (Page last reviewed 16/12/2020)

Horta BL, Loret de Mola C, et al. (2015). 'Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis’. Acta Paediatrica. 104(S467):30–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/apa.13133

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2014). Maternal and child nutrition. NICE Public Health Guideline 11. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph11 (Accessed January 2024) (Page last reviewed 01/11/2014)

Zheng M, D’Souza NJ, et al. (2024). ‘Breastfeeding and the Longitudinal Changes of Body Mass Index in Childhood and Adulthood: A Systematic Review’. Advances in Nutrition. 15(1):100152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.advnut.2023.100152

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2021). Postnatal care: Breastfeeding information and support. NICE Guideline 194 (Evidence review S). Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng194/evidence/s-breastfeeding-information-and-support-pdf-326764486010 (Accessed January 2024) (Page last reviewed 04/2021)

Xue M, Dehaas E, et al. (2021). ‘Breastfeeding and risk of childhood asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis’. ERJ Open Res. 7(4):00504–2021. https://doi.org/10.1183/23120541.00504-2021

Nakada S, Ho FK, et al. (2023). ‘Association between being breastfed and cardiovascular disease: a population cohort study of 320 249 participants’. Journal of Public Health. 45(3):569–76. https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdad016

Umer A, Hamilton C, et al. (2019). ‘Association Between Breastfeeding and Childhood Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors’. Matern Child Health J. 23(2):228–39. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-018-2641-8

Foudil-Bey I, Murphy MSQ, et al. (2021). ‘Evaluating antenatal breastmilk expression outcomes: a scoping review’. Int Breastfeed J. 16:25. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13006-021-00371-7

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (2023). Collecting your colostrum while you are pregnant: patient information factsheet. https://www.cuh.nhs.uk/patient-information/antenatal-hand-expression-of-breast-milk-guidance/ (Accessed January 2024) (Page last reviewed 07/11/2023)

Review dates
Reviewed: 06 March 2024
Next review: 06 March 2027