Gestational diabetes is the most common pregnancy complication. There may not be much you can do to prevent it, but managing diet is key to controlling it.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
When you’re pregnant, your body needs more insulin than it normally does. When your insulin supply can’t keep up with the new demand, gestational diabetes develops.
Only about 7 percent of pregnant moms get gestational diabetes, and there’s usually not much you can do to prevent it. However, some factors can put you at higher risk of developing it.
Gestational diabetes risk factors
- A family history of diabetes
- Being overweight
- Having had a previous child weight more than 9 pounds at birth
How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?
Early detection is best to help you keep yourself and your baby healthy. That’s why between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, you’ll have a screening test.
After fasting overnight, you’ll be given a sweet glucose solution to drink. In about an hour, your blood glucose level will be tested. If your level is too high, you’ll be asked to come back for a longer glucose tolerance test, which will determine whether you have the condition or not.
What Complications Can Occur?
As long as you manage your diabetes, you’ll likely have a healthy pregnancy and labor. If not controlled, some complications can occur for you and your baby:
- High blood pressure leading to pre-eclampsia
- Preterm labor
- A large baby with extra fat, which could lead to C-section
- Low blood sugar in the baby right after birth
- Mom and baby at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life
How Can I Manage Gestational Diabetes?
By following a few guidelines for diet and exercise, you should be able to stay in control:
- Watch carbohydrates — choose whole grains and limit refined carbs
- Eat small meals every few hours
- Avoid extremely sugary foods and drinks, including fruit juice
- Add a healthy protein to every meal, such as nuts, avocado, lean meat, or eggs
- Eat foods high in fiber
Adding in even simple physical activity such as a short daily walk will also help you manage diabetes. In severe cases, insulin may be necessary.
Although your food choices may be a little more limited than you’d like, this is not the time to skip meals. If you don’t eat enough food, your body will still struggle to regulate your blood sugar and you may end up with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Signs of hypoglycemia include:
If you have these symptoms, check your blood sugar right away. The easiest way to bring it back up is to eat a small, sweet snack and then your next meal if you can.
The symptoms of gestational diabetes go away for most women right after birth. Having diabetes during pregnancy can raise your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Continue following healthy habits for eating and exercising to keep your blood sugar in check now and in the future.
Learn more about gestational diabetes management by visiting the Center for Diabetes and Pregnancy at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.