Pregnancy is such an exciting time with lots of hormonal changes occurring supporting fetal growth and development. With all these changes, a woman may experience an increased likelihood of developing gestational diabetes. It’s important to understand the health-related issues associated with this condition and take steps to become even healthier for you and your baby.
Gestational diabetes usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. According to the Center for Disease Control, 2–10% of pregnancies are impacted annually. This type of diabetes is not caused by a lack of insulin, but by the hormones produced during pregnancy that can make insulin less effective—a condition referred to as insulin resistance. Symptoms like thirst, frequent urination, and exhaustion are not used to diagnose since these are common with pregnancy.
Let’s focus first on the lifestyle that can support preventing this condition.
Eat a healthful meal plan for pregnancy. A daily meal plan includes five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables (dark orange, dark green, and one citrus); six servings of enriched whole-grain breads and cereals; three servings of non- or low-fat milk or milk products; two to three servings of extra lean meats, chicken, fish, or cooked beans and peas; and eight glasses of water. These servings can be broken down into meals and snacks that support your individual eating habits and patterns. Be careful with those late-night snacks and sugar cravings!
Be consistently active. Exercise has many benefits, including lowering your blood sugar and making your body more sensitive to the insulin it’s making. Regular walking can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscle to aid in delivery.
Gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal, and the right amount of weight gain will help ensure that your baby is also gaining an appropriate amount of weight with you. Too much weight gain in the first trimester of pregnancy (before 13 weeks) can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes by 50%. Expectant mothers should gain about two to four pounds in the first three months of pregnancy.
Keep the glucose tolerance test in mind early in the pregnancy. Prepare for it with a healthy lifestyle. The test happens toward the end of the second trimester or the start of the third trimester. It’s important to get screened because any woman can develop gestational diabetes. If you’re at higher risk, your doctor may test you earlier.
If you happen to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, the treatment plan is the same as the prevention plan (with a few possible exceptions):
- Check your blood sugar to make sure your levels stay within a healthy range. Uncontrolled levels can result in a large birth weight baby.
- Eat healthy foods in the right amount at the right time. This ensures the balance of nutrients to prevent sugars from being too high.
- Physical activity lowers blood sugar and makes you more sensitive to insulin.
- Monitor the baby’s growth and development.
- If healthy eating and being active aren’t enough, take medicine as prescribed by your physician.
About 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2, so it’s important to have postnatal care that includes making sure your sugars return to normal. Working with your OBGYN, Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, Registered Dietitian and other experts during this time can help you create a customized action plan for you and your baby. LEARN MORE