November is Diabetes Awareness Month! According to the CDC, between 1-2% of pregnant women in the United States have either type-1 or type-2 diabetes and a further 6-9% will develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
What’s worse, the prevalence of diabetes during pregnancy has risen significantly over the years. Let’s look at diabetes and pregnancy, including how to control and maintain healthy blood sugar levels during pregnancy, and what you need to know to stay healthy and thriving!
Diabetes & Pregnancy
Diabetes affects how your body converts food into energy. With type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin but doesn’t use it properly.
Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women who don’t already have diabetes. During pregnancy, hormonal changes and weight gain cause the body’s cells to use insulin less efficiently. This is known as insulin resistance–and all pregnant women have some insulin resistance during pregnancy.
Notably, women who have insulin resistance before pregnancy are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, as they already have an increased need for insulin.
About 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type-2 diabetes, but there are steps you can take to lower your chances of developing diabetes and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Risks & Risk Factors
Diabetes–both types 1 and 2 and gestational–can have serious negative effects on the health of both mother and child.
High blood sugar around the time of conception can increase babies’ risk of birth defects, preterm birth, and stillbirth.
High blood sugar throughout pregnancy increases the risk of both a caesarian delivery and the baby’s risk of being born too large and developing obesity or type-2 diabetes in the future.
Women who are overweight, obese, not physically active, or who have prediabetes are more at risk of developing gestational diabetes. A family history of diabetes–including gestational diabetes in past pregnancies–may additionally increase your risk factor.
Because there are usually no signs or symptoms, a blood test is typically the only way to diagnose gestational diabetes. Talk to your doctor or OBGYN about your family history and lifestyle–and if you think you’re at risk, get tested!
Gestational diabetes typically develops around the 24th week (around the start of the third trimester) of pregnancy. As such, most patients elect to get tested between the 24th and 28th week. Patients with higher risk may be tested earlier.
Take Steps Toward Preventing Gestational Diabetes!
So how can you keep your blood sugar under control and avoid gestational diabetes? Here are five concrete steps you can take!
1. Eat a healthy diet
Maintaining a healthy weight is key–and it all starts with your diet. In addition to limiting processed foods, sugars, and sweets, look for foods high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. While most women gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, pregnant women need only 340-450 additional calories a day in the second and third trimesters, respectively. Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you–and strive to maintain it!
2. Exercise regularly
A healthy diet is important, but it isn’t enough. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, pregnant women should strive for 150 minutes of mild to moderate exercise each week–30 minutes a day, five days a week. Regular exercise is key to keeping glucose levels healthy. One study even found women who were physically active before and during their pregnancy–about 4 hours a week–reduced their risk of gestational diabetes by 70%!
3. Monitor your blood sugar
Part of avoiding gestational diabetes is knowing how at-risk you are. If you have a family history of diabetes–or especially if you’ve had gestational diabetes in the past or are overweight–talk to your doctor about having your blood sugar tested early and often. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe insulin during pregnancy–to keep glucose levels steady.
4. Attend all your appointments
Women should make regular appointments with their OBGYN during pregnancy. In the course of these visits, the doctor will perform a pelvic exam and/or ultrasound–during which he or she may observe the first signs of diabetes. Staying in regular communication and attending your routine appointments will help keep tabs on your body chemistry–which may help in reducing your risk of developing gestational diabetes.
5. Know the signs of gestational diabetes
Part of avoiding diabetes is being aware! Know the risk factors as well as the signs and symptoms. While most of the time there are little to no symptoms, manifested symptoms may include extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, bladder or skin infections, blurred vision, and nausea. By staying aware, you can catch it early!
Gestational Diabetes And You
Gestational diabetes is not always avoidable, but you can take steps to keep yourself and your baby healthy.
Know the signs and symptoms, be aware of your risk factors, strive for a healthy diet and exercise, and stay in regular communication with your doctor and medical team. Together, we can reduce the prevalence of gestational diabetes!