Feeding your baby and gestational diabetes
After your baby is born, you should start feeding them as soon as possible, and then every 2–3 hours afterwards. This will help your baby’s glucose stay at a safe level.
There is no reason why you can’t breastfeed your baby if you have gestational diabetes. In fact, it can help protect their future health. If you’ve had gestational diabetes, your baby may be at greater risk of developing obesity and or diabetes in later life. But breastfeeding can reduce these risks, as well as protect your baby against the risk of some infections, asthma and heart disease.
Breastfeeding comes very easily to some but not to others. The hospital staff, midwife or health visitor can support you.
Colostrum is the first breast milk that your body makes. This is very thick and yellow, and it contains all the nutrients your baby needs in the first few days after birth. Because their stomach is so small, your baby will only need a small amount. However, 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 is especially beneficial if you have diabetes. Some women may have difficulties breastfeeding and maintaining their baby’s glucose levels. If your baby needs extra feeds, you can use colostrum instead of formula milk.
If you want to harvest your colostrum, you can start hand expressing for a few minutes once a day when you are 36 to 37 weeks pregnant. 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’ after about 3 days and you can express by hand or use a breast pump. Some women find this difficult but remember that your midwife can support you with this.
If your baby is getting extra treatment, the equipment might make it more difficult to breastfeed. Different healthcare professionals sometimes have different approaches, but you should receive support with breastfeeding. Talk to the midwives if you feel you need more support.
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.
Some women have difficulty breastfeeding, are unable to or may choose not to. Whatever 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.
Formula feeding is perfectly safe, but it is important to make sure you make up each bottle safely to prevent your baby getting poorly.
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 right information and support for you to make an informed decision that is right for you both.
Find out more about formula feeding.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2013) Gestational diabetes https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-gestational-diabetes.pdf
Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017), p.765-767
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust Harvesting colostrum for your baby https://www.uhs.nhs.uk/Media/Controlleddocuments/Patientinformation/Pregnancyandbirth/Harvesting-colostrum-for-your-baby-maternity-information.pdf (Published June 2017. Due for review June 2020)