You’re probably here because you want to breastfeed your baby beyond a year. Or maybe you’ve heard about the benefits of long term breastfeeding and you want to know how to do it with type 1 diabetes. Or maybe you never thought about it but are now a bit curious. Well good news! This post is for YOU!
Breastfeeding beyond infancy is the biological norm. The average age around the world ranges anywhere from two to seven years. The United States, however, has an average of just 6 months. Between a lack of support and a very heavy push from formula companies, the United States is a huge outlier when compared to the rest of the world.
But that seems to be changing! More and more women (like you!) are wanting to breastfeed, and for longer amounts of time.
Benefits of extended breastfeeding for YOUR CHILD
Unfortunately, science hasn’t been too interested in the benefits of long term breastfeeding, so there isn’t a whole lot of research on the subject. However the research that we do have shows that breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as breastfeeding continues. More specifically, extended breastfeeding…
- Contributes to their nutrition: This is great especially for picker eaters who might not be getting as many nutrients as they should. After the first year the composition of breast milk changes to meet the needs of a toddler (References).
- Offers protection from illness: Your milk continues to help build your child’s immune system so that they’re experiencing fewer illnesses and for shorter durations. It also reduces mortality from illness. Certain immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration after 1 year. Another perk is that when a child is sick they often don’t want to eat or drink anything, so dehydration is often a fear, however toddlers & children will almost always want to nurse (References).
- Leads to a healthier future: Toddlers and children who are breastfed beyond one year have been shown to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol as adults. They’re also have an easier time maintaining a healthy body weight throughout their life. Girls who are breastfed have a 25% reduced risk of developing breast cancer as an adult (References).
- Improves intellectual development: Children who are breastfed beyond 1 year have higher levels of cognitive achievement (References).
Benefits of extended breastfeeding for YOU
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer (References). Studies have found that the longer you breastfeed the longer your protection lasts.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian cancer (References), uterine cancer (References), and endometrial cancer (References).
- Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced by 1 to 2 percent. Not only is this is gained back, but in many cases bone mineral density actually increases once the baby is weaned (without any supplements or changes in diet) (References).
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (References).
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (References).
- Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women (References). On a personal note, I have noticed a correlation between Miles’s nursing and my insulin needs. Every time Miles dropped a feeding my insulin needs slightly increased.
For more info on the benefits check out the article from Kelly Mom, Breastfeeding Past Infancy Fact Sheet. Kelly Mom is an excellent resource that provides evidence-based information on breastfeeding. It came highly recommended to me by my lactation consultant, doula, and midwife. I also have several friends who are part of La Leche League and highly recommend Kelly Mom.
Tips for extended breastfeeding with T1D
Tip #1 Believe You Can & Have a Support System
Trusting in yourself and your body goes a long way. Anxiety & stress surrounding breastfeeding can (and will) lower your supply. So can high blood sugar. Trust in your body, keep blood sugar in range, know what to look for if baby isn’t getting enough, and have confidence knowing that your body knows what to do.
Read books on breastfeeding so you know what to expect and what is normal. Hint – Completely engorged breasts that leak & squirt 24/7 and can output 4oz from each boob is not the norm – even tho that seems to be the norm on social media. Have good resources to turn to if you have questions, and know where to get help or support. Extended breastfeeding with T1D is possible!
Some of my favorite breastfeeding resources/supports are:
- Websites: Kelly Mom, La Leche League
- Books: Ina Mays Guide to Breastfeeding, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
- People: Lactation Consultants, Your Doula or midwife might also be trained lactation consultants, friends who have breastfed, breastfeeding community on FB or IG, your husband/partner.
Also check out my post about The 6 Things No One Tells You About Breastfeeding with T1D
Tip #2 Be The Pacifier
Every time your baby/child nurses it sends a signal to your body to make more milk. The more they suck, the more you make.
Miles lived on my chest for the first few months of his life. Nursing whenever he fussed, sleeping on me between feeds, and using me as a pacifier whenever he needed pacifying. In those first few months we established a healthy bond and solid milk supply as a result. I did not watch the clock or put him on a schedule. If he fussed, I fed him. Even if it was 20 minutes since his last feed.
Your baby doesn’t need you to set a feeding schedule. They will fall into one on their own. It’s innate.
Even when Miles went into daycare at 6 months I was still the pacifier. He nursed and pacified when we were together and at daycare he was bottle fed with my pumped milk – he didn’t need pacifiers at school.
In terms of blood sugar, some women experience lows for the first couple months and others don’t. If you do experience lows while breastfeeding, don’t fret, they don’t last long. Once your hormones get a change to settle into their new groove it will be smooth sailing.
Tip #3 Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Supply
Extended breastfeeding with T1D requires a lot of nutrients and water. In order to keep your supply up and keep YOU healthy, nourishment staying hydrated is pivotal.
Breastfeed depletes you of certain nutrients and so does T1D. In order to keep up with both here is what I took…
- Prenatal Nourish Her Naturally tincture (until Miles began consistently eating solids, around 10 months)
- Zinc (picolinate)
- Vitamin D3 with K2
- Folate (not folic acid)
- Magnesium (topically. Here is my recipe for it.)
- Collagen (grass fed)
- Organ meat capsules (grass fed)
In terms of food, I ate about 80-100g protein daily, drank bone broth about 4x week, and added naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut to one meal every day.
I did try lactation cookies, but didn’t notice a difference in my supply. I found the best things to up my supply (when I went back to work and was pumping during the day) was lactation tea and “power pumping” sessions.
Tip #4 It Gets Easier the Longer You Do It
You and your baby will get into a groove. You’ll find your favorite positions, you’ll fall into a routine, it will become second nature.
You will likely get clogged duct or two, we all do. It comes with the territory. But trust me, the hard times don’t last forever, or even very long.
As your baby begins to eat solids, your milk supply will match his demand for milk and naturally drop. This means less engorgement, less leaking, and less clogged ducts.
One of the benefits of having T1D while breastfeeding is that your body might give you a heads up when that clogged duct has turned into mastitis before symptoms even start. Just take a look at your blood sugar. You may notice a pattern of highs a couple days before mastitis symptoms kicked in; this was true for me. This heads up allowed me to start treating it naturally so that I didn’t have to use antibiotics.
There are loads of articles out there on how to treat mastitis without antibiotics. What I did was…
- Take a hot shower while massaging the tender area – pushing towards the nipple. Sometimes you can even feel the clog move down before it breaks up.
- Immediately after the shower have baby nurse on that boob with their bottom lip in-line with the clog. Their bottom lip draws the strongest suction. This might mean you’re in a really weird position.
- Massage the area while baby is nursing – pushing towards the nipple.
- After the feeding, apply a cabbage leaf to the area. Leave it in your bra/shirt until baby is ready to nurse again.
- And repeat at the next feeding.
Tip #5 You Do You!
YOU are the Mom, which means YOU get to make the call. The decision to continue or stop breastfeeding is between you and your baby. I’ve found that often when people make comments like “Is Miles still nursing?” or “How long are you going to nurse him for?” they are genuinely curious. Mostly because extended breastfeeding is not their norm.
I’ve found the best way to handle this is a short & sweet, non-defensive reply, “Yes” or make a joke and say “I draw the line at college” and move on to another topic. Most of the time the comments end there, but sometimes you might get more push back or more curiosity. It is your choice if you wish to respond.
Depending on your relationship with that person you may or may not choose to educate them. On the ONE occasion where I got additional push back, I chose to briefly touch on the benefits of extended breastfeeding for both baby & mama. I then told them most babies (in developed nations) naturally wean by age 3 or 4.
Sometimes people understand the situation better if you frame it like that. And the more they understand the less likely you’ll continue getting comments from them. Extended breastfeeding with T1D is empowering!
Tip #6 Don’t Be Afraid to Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries around nursing for your toddler can make a positive impact on both your mental and physical health. The stress that can come from a toddler wanting to nurse anytime anyplace can be exhausting. It’s also not very discrete when you have a 30lbs active child squirming on your lap latching and unlatching.
Hello flashing bosoms!
This stress can have a negative impact on your sugar too. And on top of all THAT if your child is nursing irregularly it will cause your hormones to go berserk trying to make more milk – which also means your sugars will go berserk.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around nursing after your baby turns one.
Boundaries around nursing could look like only two nursing session a day (one in the morning + one at night). It could also look like three nursing sessions, or even one.
YOU make the call.
By age two your child can understand what you’re saying. Kindly tell them, “We’re not going to do baba right now, but we can do it when we get home. Are you thirsty? Can I get you a water instead?”
You can also choose to have exceptions to your toddler nursing schedule, like if they fall and need extra comforting, or if they’re sick and want to nurse all day.
Again, YOU make the call.
You’re Killin’ It Mama
You can do this! But even if you ultimately decide not to breastfeed long term, you’re still killin’ it! You are a mom with T1D which means you are a superhero. Don’t ever think you can’t do this! Extended breastfeeding with T1D is possible!