You’re well into your second trimester and are finally just about free of morning sickness. This trimester has some interesting plot twists, too. As if drinking eight ounces of thick, syrupy glucose solution wasn’t bothersome enough, you’ve just received news that you have gestational diabetes.
It’s natural to be concerned and wonder how this condition will affect the remainder of your pregnancy and life after your baby arrives. If you plan to breastfeed, you might worry that your gestational diabetes will interfere with your ability to nurse.
Let’s talk about what gestational diabetes is, how it will affect the remainder of your pregnancy, and whether or not breastfeeding will be an option.
What Is Diabetes?
Virtually all food we eat breaks down into glucose in our bloodstream. When glucose enters our bloodstream, it causes your blood sugar levels to spike. This signals the pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin.
Insulin works like a delivery vehicle, removing glucose from your bloodstream and taking it to the cells for fuel. Any glucose that isn’t immediately necessary for cells is stored in the liver as glycogen, which can later convert back to glucose. Excess blood glucose is stored as glycogen in muscle and liver tissues, and lipids in adipose tissue.
For a person with diabetes, the body either does not produce enough (or any) insulin to keep up with blood glucose levels, or the cells have become resistant to the insulin delivering the glucose (a condition called insulin resistance), or both.
Women who have never had diabetes before may develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) when pregnant. While pregnant, the placenta releases hormones that can cause excess glucose to remain in the bloodstream.
If the body cannot produce enough insulin to remove the glucose from the blood, a pregnant woman may develop gestational diabetes.
Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes
Researchers aren’t sure why some pregnant women develop gestational diabetes while others do not. However, there are risk factors that may put you at an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes when you are pregnant. These include:
- Being inactive or having a sedentary lifestyle
- Carrying excess weight or being obese (having a BMI over 30)
- Having been diagnosed with prediabetes (a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to be considered diabetic)
- Having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
- A family history of gestational diabetes or type 2 diabetes
- Certain ovarian conditions, like PCOS
You can reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes by maintaining a healthy lifestyle pre-pregnancy and after pregnancy. However, in some cases, gestational diabetes may be unavoidable. The prevalence and incidence rates of this condition show that it is actually very common.
Gestational diabetes usually goes away once your baby is born, but your risk for developing type 2 diabetes in later life increases if you develop gestational diabetes. Your doctor or gynecologist can administer an oral glucose tolerance test to help you determine if you have gestational diabetes. From there, your healthcare provider can help you develop an antenatal care plan.
Can I Breastfeed With Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes typically does not negatively affect breastfeeding, milk production, or lactation. If you have gestational diabetes, breastfeeding is one of the most beneficial things you can do for both your own body and your baby’s.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Your Baby
When you have gestational diabetes, there’s a risk your baby could be born with low blood sugar. One of the best ways to support healthy blood sugar levels in your newborn is by feeding them breast milk as soon as possible after birth. In fact, the first milk you produce (called colostrum) is ideal for resolving neonatal hypoglycemia.
In addition, studies show that breastfeeding your baby is associated with a lower rate of type 2 diabetes in children age two and older.
Breastfeeding provides the optimum nutrition your baby needs to help support its growth and development and protect its immune system. Even if you have gestational diabetes, breastfeeding your baby is safe and beneficial. It also increases the skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby, which is important for your baby’s development.
It’s important to schedule a follow-up with your baby’s pediatrition for postnatal care even if your baby is breastfed. This way, you can continue to monitor your baby for any signs of insulin sensitivity with the help of trained health professionals. Your pediatrition can also advise you on the appropriate duration of breastfeeding and when to wean you baby.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Your Body
Talk to your doctor about the best way to manage your post-term care, especially if you have gestational diabetes.
Choosing to breastfeed, however, can help return your blood sugar levels to a healthy range. One of the many health benefits of breastfeeding is that it helps your body process glucose and insulin more effectively, and also helps put you at a lower risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus once your baby is born.
Even if you don’t utilize exclusive breastfeeding, early breastfeeding can help your postpartum recovery and be an important part of your diabetes care.
If you choose to supplement your breastfeeding practices, it’s important to nurse often so that your milk supply doesn’t dry up. If you notice any issues with lactogenesis or breastfeeding support, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider and gynecologist.
How Does Gestational Diabetes Affect Pregnancy?
A diagnosis of gestational diabetes means you’ll have to make some changes during the remainder of your pregnancy.
Your doctor will discuss with you whether or not you need medication to help regulate your blood sugar. In most cases, lifestyle changes will help keep you and your baby safe throughout pregnancy. These include:
- Physical exercise. Your doctor will talk to you about how much physical exercise and what type of physical exercise is safe for you while you are pregnant.
- Meal plans. Eating a healthy diet that monitors carbohydrate and added sugar intake will be key in keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
- Monitoring. You will likely need to monitor your blood sugar levels periodically during the day. This may include monitoring your blood sugar before and after meals or in the morning and evening.
It’s important to make sure you follow your doctor’s orders to keep your blood sugar in check. Gestational diabetes that is left untreated can be detrimental to your health and your baby’s.
What Are Possible Complications of Gestational Diabetes?
Just like type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes, managing gestational diabetes to ensure your and your baby’s health is essential. You risk complications if you don’t take steps to regulate your blood sugar during your pregnancy.
Complications for Your Baby
Babies that are born to mothers who do not treat gestational diabetes are at higher risk of:
- High birth weight. Babies that weigh more than eight pounds 13 ounces have a higher risk of being hurt during labor and delivery. This condition, called macrosomia, is more prevalent in babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes that isn’t well managed.
- Preterm birth. Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are considered preterm — your baby’s risk of being born preterm increases if you have gestational diabetes.
- C-Section. You may be at higher risk of needing a C-section if you have unaddressed gestational diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes. Untreated, gestational diabetes can increase your child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and breathing problems later in life.
Even if your gestational diabetes is well managed, your baby may still be at risk of being born with low blood sugar, which usually self-regulates very quickly after birth.
Complications for Your Body
During pregnancy, it’s important to focus on your baby’s health and your health. Diabetic mothers may need a few extra steps in their pregnancy care routines, but if you follow the direction of a trained healthcare professional, you’ll lower your risk of developing these complications.
- High blood pressure. During pregnancy, high blood pressure can lead to preeclampsia, a condition where the organs begin to lose function due to high blood pressure.
- Perinatal depression. Depression that begins during pregnancy may last after your baby is born. This type of depression can change the way you feel about life events, can lead to feelings of sadness and despair, and can even impact your physical health.
- Type 2 diabetes. Even if you’ve never had prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, having gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Type 2 diabetes can increase your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Thankfully, the changes you need to make to keep your body and your baby safe during your pregnancy aren’t that difficult, and your doctor can help keep you on track.
What If I Can’t Breastfeed?
Breastfeeding is a great option for feeding your baby, and there are benefits for you and your baby if you choose to nurse. However, if you experience problems with breastfeeding initiation or simply choose not to breastfeed, formula feeding can still nourish your growing baby.
Using an infant feeding formula that isn’t commercially manufactured and regulated by the FDA isn’t advisable. Regulated formulas are measured for your baby’s nutritional needs to help them grow and thrive.
Healthy Pregnancies and Beyond
Gestational diabetes isn’t what you were expecting, but you can take action to care for your body and ensure your baby’s safety while pregnant. Lifestyle changes like more physical activity, a balanced diet, and checking your blood sugar levels are key to having a happy, healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery.
For more information, check out the Diabetic.org medical articles. Here, you’ll find answers to common pregnancy questions, articles about pregnancy health and wellness, and ideas for maintaining health and wellness after your baby is born.
References, Studies and Sources:
Gestational diabetes – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
Diabetes and Breastfeeding | American Diabetes Association.org
Breastfeeding may help prevent type 2 diabetes after gestational diabetes | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Gestational diabetes|March of Dimes.org
Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula | FDA
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Camille Freking and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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