What every pregnant woman needs to know about diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that begins during pregnancy in a woman who did not have type 1 or type 2 diabetes before getting pregnant. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include being older than 25, having a family history of diabetes or gestational diabetes, being overweight, or having African American, Hispanic, or Asian American ethnicity.
Gestational diabetes often has no present symptoms, so around 24-28 weeks of the pregnancy, doctors do a routine screening for this, known as glucose tolerance testing. The test involves drinking a glucose solution (the taste … not so great), then getting your blood sugar tested an hour later. If the result is positive, you do a repeat glucose tolerance test on a different day, where you drink a glucose solution and have your blood sugar tested once an hour for three hours.
“If you’re pregnant, your main concern is your baby,” says certified diabetes educator Sandra Arévalo, RDN. “Your baby is going to be safe, but there’s going to have to be a little bit of work.”
For a safe and healthy pregnancy, treatment for gestational diabetes includes changes in diet, an increase in physical activity, and taking medication (often insulin) if needed. The goal is to keep blood sugar levels similar to those of pregnant women without gestational diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Of course, eating a nutrient-packed diet and managing cravings and aversions while pregnant is already difficult—even without the added worry of managing blood sugar levels—so it’s great if you can work with a registered dietitian or a diabetes educator to simplify making healthy eating choices.
If it all sounds overwhelming, here’s a simple tip: “You want to get a mix of carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fats at each meal and preferably at each snack,” says registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN. (Here are more tips for eating a healthy diet to manage diabetes.)
Gestational diabetes typically goes away after pregnancy; however, it may likely return in future pregnancies, and you’ll have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Because of this risk, doctors suggest a follow-up glucose tolerance test within a few months of delivery.
“After the baby comes, keep up with your healthy eating and exercise,” says Largeman-Roth, “and hopefully you can prevent diabetes down the road.”
Learn more about managing diabetes and blood glucose levels here.
How to treat gestational diabetes. Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association, 2014. (Accessed on November 15, 2017 at http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/gestational/how-to-treat-gestational.html.)
Patient education: Gestational diabetes mellitus (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2017. (Accessed on November 15, 2017 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/gestational-diabetes-mellitus-beyond-the-basics.)