Posted by: Admin | May 19, 2011

Dear LC – Does a diabetic mother’s milk have more sugar in it?

No! Lactose, the sugar in breastmilk, is not affected by the amount of sugar in a mother’s blood or the sugary food that she eats. Actually, the human baby needs milk that is high in lactose to nourish and develop her brain. Of all the milks made by mammals, human milk has the highest quantity of lactose (an interesting fact: the mammal with the second highest level of lactose in its milk is the chimpanzee, genetically our closest relative).

We usually think that human milk is produced by a very simple process: the food eaten by the mother is taken up by the breast and directly passed on through breastmilk. However, the process is much more complex, and human milk is made only in part from the foods that we eat.

The breast is a beautiful container that hides well all the wheeling and dealing that happens inside of it to make such a perfect product as breastmilk. Below is a link to a videoclip that shows you all the parts of the breast as you would see them enlarged by a microscope.The smallest parts, the alveoli, look a little bit like balloons. The skin of this balloon is lined with small cells called lactocytes, which are the cells that produce milk. These lactocytes are located very close to the outside of the alveoli, where they can “aspirate” the ingredients they need to make breastmilk from the blood in the vessels passing near them.

Lactocytes are like mini factories, transforming what they take from the mother’s blood into breastmilk. Each cell has different parts, and each part performs a specific job: one will take care of the fat, another of the lactose, and others the proteins, vitamins and minerals. Each cell has the precise recipe for breastmilk and adds the exact quantities of the different ingredients. Water is also needed, but it passes through the cell by a process similar to osmosis. What is very unique to breastmilk is that if  there is a greater amount of a certain type of fat, all the other ingredients will be produced in quantities adapted to this change. It is in constant movement. Breastmilk is a live product!

The body of a mother with diabetes cannot metabolize sugar well, so it stays in her blood stream. As a result, there will be more sugar in her blood. This means that the lactocytes will get the sugar they need to make breastmilk from a more sugary source, but they are smart. They will take only what they need according to their genetically programmed recipe.

Breastfeeding can actually help a diabetic mother. The lactocytes will be taking some sugar from her blood to make the breastmilk, so there will be a little less circulating in her blood. Usually, breastfeeding mothers will need to decrease the amount of insulin or medication they take to adjust to this change. Naturally, a woman should do this only under the supervision of a health professional.

Research has shown that women with gestational diabetes are less at risk of getting diabetes at a later age if, after giving birth, they breastfeed the baby. Also, it is known that diabetes can be hereditary. If you have diabetes, whatever the type, research shows that you will be protecting your baby from this illness if you breastfeed her.

So, diabetes I and II, glucose intolerance or gestational diabetes are not illnesses that prevent a mother from breastfeeding. On the contrary, breastfeeding will benefit both mother and child!



  1. Great article! We’ll repost in on our fb page!

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