Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Breastfeeding With Diabetes


My first daughter, Katharine, was born four-and-a-half years ago. She literally kicked her way out of my womb, and my husband says when he saw her face for the first time, as she screamed at the top of her lungs, he felt a sense of fear: she was a force to be reckoned with. Katharine was demanding in every way, not the least of which was nursing. I was determined to nurse her exclusively for as long as possible. I have been an insulin-dependent diabetic for 15 years, and I knew that nursing her would reduce the risk of her getting diabetes but it was a challenge from the start.

Katharine wanted to be at my breast all the time. She rarely napped for more than half an hour. Like many needy babies I’ve learned about since then, she wanted to be held, comforted, and nursed most of the time. It seemed as if I never had enough milk for her. I remember one day when she was three weeks old, I had had her on my breast for five hours without more than a couple of 15 minute breaks all afternoon. At 5:30 PM, my husband, Lazaro, walked through the door and I burst into tears. I was exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and physically. We decided to give her a bottle of formula. After four ounces, she was finally contented and peaceful and she slept for the first time all day. I felt so inadequate as a mother. That day was truly a low point but, luckily, things became easier after that. I persevered, determined to nurse Katharine exclusively. Slowly but surely, my milk supply began to increase to the point where, at three months, she was satisfied and happy.

Katharine weaned at eight months, earlier than I wanted but I was happy that it was her decision. Today, Katharine is an incredibly bright, healthy four-year-old who speaks fluent Spanish and English and is a joy to behold. She is (and always will be, I’m sure) demanding, energetic, and often difficult.



My baby, Elizabeth, is just the opposite. She was born just over a year ago and her laid-back disposition was evident at birth, just as Katharine’s fiery personality was. Elizabeth has always been easy but when she was four days old I feared she was too easy. She was simply sleeping too much and not as alert as she should be. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what. My LLL Leader, Faith, was the one who noticed Elizabeth’s jaundiced appearance. Faith told me not to worry but to be sure and wake her frequently for feedings. I was worried and called my pediatrician, who was my husband’s cousin and godmother. When I described the jaundice, she said immediately, “Stop the breast. She has breast milk-induced jaundice. Give her formula. If you insist on breastfeeding, give her lots of bottles of water.” I knew from reading baby-care books that that type of jaundice was extremely rare and didn’t appear until two weeks and my baby was only five days old. My mothering instinct told me that what my baby needed was more of my milk, not less. I had read that giving her bottles of water would make her jaundice worse by starving her of the calories she needed. I decided to take my baby out into the sunlight and breastfeed her as much as possible. To my husband’s family’s horror, I decided to find a new pediatrician, one who would support my commitment to breastfeed my baby exclusively.

Elizabeth improved and within a few days was healthy and gaining weight like crazy. She did not have a drop of formula from the day she was born until she was ten months old. Even though I went back to work part-time when she was six months old, I had built up a supply of frozen milk from the early weeks by pumping every morning.  Elizabeth began to wean last month (at thirteen months) and is incredibly healthy.  I am so grateful that I had Faith’s support and counsel and that I had the determination to do what I knew was best for my baby – to give her my milk.


By Lauren Priegues

Used with permission from LLL USA

Readers should remember that research and medical information change over time.






If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader. In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally

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Women’s Heart Health and Breastfeeding

Mothers who breastfeed are at significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer, hypertension, and suffering heart attacks than women who do not, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

A study has shown that women who breastfeed their babies, are far less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke many years later.  The evidence that was analyzed comes from the massive Women’s Health Initiative trial in the U.S. and involved nearly 140,000 women, ages 50-79 at the time of the study.  Researchers found that women who had breastfed were less likely, after menopause, to have developed high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.  Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Canadian women.

Three Generations


Ours is the first study that shows that there really is a strong effect in terms of preventing heart attacks and stroke for women who nursed for more than six months,” said Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

Women who had breastfed for one to six months had less diabetes, less high blood pressure, and less high cholesterol, all known risk factors for heart disease.  Those who breastfed for seven months or more were significantly less likely to have actually developed cardiovascular disease compared to women who had never breastfed.  Women who breastfed for a lifetime total of at least 12 months were 10 per cent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke or developed heart disease when they were older.  The finding held after researchers took age, income, body mass index (BMI), diet, physical activity, family history of heart disease and other factors into account.

One theory proposed to explain this finding is that breastfeeding lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by mobilizing fat stores.  When women don’t breastfeed, or express breastmilk, the body fat stored up during pregnancy isn’t used as nature intended it to be (to support lactation).  However, this study found that the lower rates of cardiovascular disease were still present after BMI was accounted for – heavier women still had lower rates of disease. This indicates that lactation does more than simply reduce a woman’s fat stores.  It is possible that the hormones of lactation, such as oxytocin, may have an effect on cardiovascular profiles.  Dr. Schwarz said, “Breastfeeding has an important role in the way women’s bodies recover from pregnancy.  I think what we’re seeing is that when this process is interrupted by women feeding their babies things other than human milk, women are more likely to have a number of health problems.”

While breastfeeding is widely recognized as important to infant health, more people need to understand that breastfeeding appears to have substantial long-term effects on women’s health as well,” Dr. Schwarz explained.

Mother and Leader


How amazing that breastfeeding could continue to have positive effects for the whole family, by protecting the health of future grandmothers!  That’s less stress for those breastfed babies, when they are grown into the busy years of careers and parenting their own children!


If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally





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Breastfeeding and Diabetes

by Teresa Pitman

You know breastfeeding provides the nutrition your baby needs. You know that if he wasn’t breastfed he’d have more colds, viruses, infections. But do you know that by breastfeeding you are helping to ward off diseases that could affect him for the rest of his life?

Let’s look at just one of these: diabetes. As you probably know, there are two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2. Both are serious illnesses with possible life-threatening complications, and both are on the increase in North America. In Type 1 diabetes, the body stops producing insulin; in Type 2, insulin is still produced but the body’s cells resist letting that insulin transport sugars as it should.

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What you might not know is that breastfeeding can help reduce the risk of developing both types of diseases for the baby, and of developing Type 2 diabetes for the mother as well. Here’s what the research says:

A 2008 study comparing children who developed Type 1 diabetes with children who did not reported that “up to one half of the diabetes cases could be attributed to modifiable factors.” In other words, about half the cases could have been prevented. The most important factor, according to the researchers? You probably guessed it: breastfeeding. The longer the baby was breastfed, the less likely he or she was to develop Type 1 diabetes, and the older the baby was when formula or cow’s milk was introduced, the lower the risk as well. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with continued breastfeeding as solids are added to the baby’s diet would provide the most protection.

Another factor identified by researchers is that babies who experience viral infections during the first year are more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes. Those who experience more infections are at greater risk. Breastfeeding, of course, helps to protect babies against infections and so strikes another blow against diabetes.

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What about Type 2 diabetes? While there is a genetic component to this disease as well, overweight or obesity is a major risk factor. Babies who are breastfed and who start on solids at around the middle of the first year are less likely to be obese as children and as they grow older. So they are less likely to have Type 2 diabetes as well.

Not only that, but mothers who breastfeed are less likely to be obese. While it doesn’t feel like exercise to us while we’re doing it (well, unless we have a fussy baby and we’re walking around and nursing!) the calories burned up as our breasts manufacture milk are significant. A 2008 study from Georgia (USA) compared mothers who were breastfeeding exclusively to those who were giving their babies formula as well as breastfeeding. The exclusively breastfeeding mothers consumed more calories but lost significantly more weight during the first three months after their babies were born.

In another study from Denmark, also done in 2008, all the mothers started out breastfeeding. Those who weaned their babies earlier were more likely to hold onto their postpartum weight and to gain weight during the first 18 months after their babies were born. Those who breastfed exclusively had a better chance of losing the weight gained during pregnancy by the time the baby was six months old.

So breastfeeding provides many layers of protection from this serious illness – as well as from other obesity-related diseases. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the risk becomes zero. I have two friends whose children developed Type 1 diabetes; both children were breastfed for more than a year. And as they deal with insulin pumps and doctor visits, they’d be the first to tell you: breastfeed. Do what you can to reduce the risk. Every time you put your baby to your breast, you’re giving him an amazing gift.

Teresa Pitman is co-author of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Sweet Sleep, and author of Preparing to Breastfeed as well as other books.


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If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally



* This article does not state that breastfeeding prevents diabetes. What is says is “breastfeeding provides many layers of protection from this serious illness – as well as from other obesity-related diseases. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the risk becomes zero.”
SB is reporting the findings of several studies done in 2008 and 2009 in this post. We recognize that there is always ongoing research on breastfeeding and diabetes and we encourage parents to become more informed.
SB’s intent is to provide our readers from around the world with breastfeeding articles.



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