Q: We think it’s time to have the “birds and the bees” talk with our daughter now that her health class is covering a unit on sex education. What general information can we share about how type 1 diabetes factors into what she’s learning?
A: In deciding what information to share with your daughter, you will probably both find it easier if you keep the conversation factual and to the point. A good place to start is to make sure your daughter understands that even though she has diabetes, she can still get pregnant. For whatever reason, there is a persistent myth that if you are a woman with type 1 diabetes, you are automatically infertile, but this just isn’t true. Ovaries work in women with type 1 just the same as they do in other women. So how birth control works for sexually active females with type 1 may be another topic that’s worthy of discussion.
As teens learn the basics of human reproduction and wonder about where their diabetes fits in, we find that many tend to be concerned about passing on diabetes to any children they might have. There is some matter-of-fact information to share here: Research tells us that if the father has diabetes, there is a 10 percent chance his offspring will also have diabetes. If it’s the mother who has diabetes and she is less than 25 years old, there is a 4 percent chance of having a child who develops diabetes. If she is more than 25 years old when she becomes pregnant, the chance her child will have type 1 diabetes is 1 percent, which is the same as the general population.
Something else to consider sharing? People with diabetes run the same risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as their peers without diabetes. Your diabetes educator or diabetes team can be another great resource for factual information on diabetes and sexual health, as well as support for parents and children during the teen years.
Finally, since she will be learning about what happens when she is older and ready to consider starting a family, you can tell her that having diabetes does carry added risks during pregnancy, so women who want to become pregnant need to make sure they have excellent blood sugar control. Poor diabetes control early in pregnancy can damage the unborn fetus and lead to the development of other diabetes-related complications. What your daughter especially needs to hear is that taking good care of herself right now by managing her blood sugar can help her have a healthy pregnancy should she decide to have children in the future.
–Rosemary Briars, N.D., P.N.P.-B.C., C.D.E., C.C.D.C., is clinical director and program co-director of the Chicago Children’s Diabetes Center at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
How Other Parents Deal
“Because diabetes had already forced us to have so many conversations about putting health and safety first and making positive choices when out with friends, the ‘birds and bees’ talk didn’t even faze me!”
–Cassie S., Bedford, N.Y., mom of 18-year-old Jonathan
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.