Protecting As Best I Can
By Kerri Sparling
Before I was pregnant, I did a ton of research about preparing for a diabetic pregnancy. I read all the crazy books, met with my pre-pregnancy team constantly, and spent the majority of my day focused on controlling my diabetes to the very best of my ability. Once I was pregnant, I actually quit my job so that I could be closer to my family and focus entirely on my health and well-being. It was nine months of intense type 1 diabetes management and a flurry of medical appointments, ultimately leading to the birth of my daughter.
But now that she's out, I find my efforts leaning less on my own health and more on her health. Specifically, how to keep a potential diabetes diagnosis out of her future.
I realize that when it comes to diseases like type 1 diabetes, there is a genetic potluck in play. You can't be certain what kind of genetic markers your child may have, and with an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes, there isn't much you can do to cause or avoid a diagnosis. But through my research about type 1 diabetes and its supposed triggers, I've seen a few constants that have caused me to make some decisions about the way my child is raised, health-wise. (And, for the record, my decisions are made by my family, and they are our own decisions. I'm definitely not a doctor, and my experiences are purely anecdotal. Ahem – thus ends the impromptu disclaimer.)
After reading several articles about the benefits of breastfeeding and how breastfeeding may deter a diabetes diagnosis, I decided that I would try to breastfeed my daughter as long as possible. I was able to breastfeed her almost exclusively (save for a bottle of formula given to her shortly after she was born, due to her low blood sugar) for three full months, and then I continued to breastfeed and supplement with formula as needed for five and a half months. The benefits of breastfeeding, in my opinion, were more than just diabetes-related, and I'm very thankful that I was given the opportunity to provide for my daughter in that specific way.
I am also following a gluten-free diet for my child for the first year of her life. When I mentioned this decision on my diabetes blog, some of the feedback was a little judgmental, accusing me of depriving my child, but I stand by my decision confidently. A year without gluten is not a year of deprivation. Instead, it's a diet of protein, vegetables, rice cereal, and fruit, in addition to formula. I don't think that Cheerios are what defines a childhood, and after reading about the links between celiac disease and type 1 diabetes, I don't see any harm in avoiding gluten until her first birthday.
There is no guarantee that our decisions will have a positive impact on my daughter's health. I could be working hard to ward off a diagnosis that isn't coming, or pointlessly trying to avoid one that is. But these are the parenting decisions Chris and I made as a team, and it's not a recommended course of action for other parents who have a history of type 1 diabetes in their family. It's just what we decided to do. But I do know that I want to follow though on my decision. While my life with diabetes has been manageable, I'd prefer that the only diabetes in my daughter's life be mine and mine alone.
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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