Gestational diabetes and pregnancy
Gestational diabetes can develop in nondiabetic women during pregnancy. It affects about 5% of all pregnant women, but it can be more prevalent among certain groups.
Without proper treatment, gestational diabetes can cause your little one to gain more weight than normal, growing larger and putting you at higher risk for a Cesarean section. Gestational diabetes can lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy and may result in a premature birth. Also, if your gestational diabetes isn’t controlled, your baby can develop low blood sugar levels after delivery.
In most cases, gestational diabetes disappears after delivery. However, a diagnosis does put you at a greater risk for developing it again during another pregnancy and increases your risk of developing adult-onset (type II) diabetes. If you have had gestational diabetes, have your doctor check your blood sugar levels at each routine checkup.
Although the exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, certain factors may increase your risk. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- family history of diabetes
- age 25 or older
- Hispanic, African American, Native American, Asian American, or Pacific Island descent
- gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- previous delivery of a high-birth-weight baby (9 pounds or more)
Warning signs include increased urination, excessive thirst or hunger, and fatigue. But since not all women experience symptoms, the American Diabetes Association recommends that pregnant women with high risk for gestational diabetes be tested for it as soon as possible. Women with average risk should be tested between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Treatment options: diet and exercise
If you find out you have gestational diabetes, the goal is to keep your blood sugar levels stable and within normal levels. In many cases, this can be done with diet and exercise. Here are some general dietary guidelines:
- Eat a balanced diet, with some form of carbohydrate and protein at each meal, with up to about 300 more calories a day than is recommended for you when you're not pregnant. Your registered dietitian can calculate your optimum caloric intake.
- Eat high-fiber foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
- Avoid fruit juice and omit fruit from your breakfast. Eat just one serving of fruit at a time.
- Choose complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread, over refined carbohydrates such as white rice or white bread.
- Choose low-fat foods such as low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat, fish, and poultry.
- Limit foods high in added sugars.
- Eat a bedtime snack that includes a source of protein and carbohydrate such as whole-grain crackers with low-fat cottage cheese, hummus, or peanut butter.
- Try not to gain more weight during your pregnancy than your doctor recommends.
- Add regular, moderate exercise to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor, making sure to ask about the frequency, duration, and intensity level that is right for you.
When diet and exercise aren't enough
If diet and exercise alone aren't enough to keep your blood sugar levels normal, your doctor may prescribe insulin injections. You'll also be given a blood glucose meter, which will allow you to test your own blood sugar levels at home. Regularly checking your blood sugar levels each day will help you and your doctor make any necessary adjustments in your diet, exercise, and/or insulin treatment.
Where to go for more information
Once you're diagnosed, keep in close contact with the doctor or health care professional managing your gestational diabetes. Ask for a referral to a registered dietitian, who can help you with a specific eating plan.
Contact the following organizations for more information:
American Diabetes Association
American Dietetic Association
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development