November is a month when you often focus on gratitude (and rightly so), but it’s also a time to spread awareness about diabetes.
In honor of National Diabetes Month, our team of doctors and certified nurse midwives at Westover Hills Women’s Health want to spotlight gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women.
Here’s what you need to know about its risk factors, treatment, and strategies for prevention.
Understanding gestational diabetes and its complications
There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It typically develops around the 24th week of pregnancy.
This is why we at Westover Hills Women’s Health recommend a glucose screening near your 24th week of pregnancy. This screening measures your blood sugar levels one hour after you drink a sugary liquid.
Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause complications such as:
- Excessive birth weight (which can increase your need for a C-section)
- Increased risk of preterm birth
- Low blood sugar for babies after birth
- Increased risk for Type 2 diabetes (for you and your baby)
- Maternal high blood pressure
Unlike other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes may resolve after childbirth, but it still requires careful management during pregnancy.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes
Several factors increase the likelihood that you’ll develop gestational diabetes:
- Family history of diabetes
- Obesity before and/or during pregnancy
- Advanced maternal age
- Personal diagnosis of gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- History of polycystic ovary syndrome
- Belonging to certain ethnic groups, including African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American
- Following a diet high in refined grains, sugar, and processed foods
Just because you have one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll develop gestational diabetes. Likewise, even if you don’t have many risk factors, it’s still important to focus on healthy prevention strategies.
How to prevent gestational diabetes
While you can’t prevent all cases of gestational diabetes, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:
- Losing weight before conceiving (if applicable)
- Aiming for a targeted weight gain during pregnancy
- Adopting a balanced diet that focuses on 100% whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats
- Exercising regularly before and during pregnancy (if cleared to do so)
- Scheduling a glucose screening during your pregnancy
We can tailor dietary modifications and an exercise plan that would benefit you the most.
How to treat gestational diabetes
Even if you adopt all of the prevention strategies listed above, it’s still possible to develop high blood sugar levels. Not all risk factors for diabetes are controllable.
The good news, though, is that you can manage gestational diabetes through the following treatments and lifestyle modifications:
Following a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, 100% whole grains, fish, and dairy products protects against gestational diabetes. If you eat fish, though, choose low-mercury fish.
Avoid refined grains, sugar (including sugary drinks), unhealthy fats, and processed food.
If you have diabetes, exercise makes your body more sensitive to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows the cells in your body to use blood sugar for energy, so when your body becomes more sensitive to this hormone, it helps manage your diabetes.
Focus on pregnancy-safe exercises, such as walking, prenatal yoga, swimming, and step-ups.
In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage blood sugar levels if exercise and dietary changes don’t improve your levels enough. Insulin is the first-choice medication, since it doesn’t cross your placenta and is safe for your baby.
Are you concerned about gestational diabetes?
In observance of National Diabetes Month, take steps to learn your risk factors for diabetes, and if you’re at risk, consider adopting a few prevention strategies.
To book your next prenatal appointment, call one of our San Antonio, Texas, offices, or use our online tool.