Gestational diabetes is a metabolic condition that can cause many adverse effects during a woman’s pregnancy. It can occur in pregnant women who have no previous history of diabetes.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gestational diabetes affects two to five percent of pregnancies yearly. Furthermore, around half of women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Thankfully, you can prevent a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. Most of these preventable measures involve lifestyle changes.
This article examines five of the most effective ways to help prevent gestational diabetes from developing during pregnancy.
What Causes Diabetes?
diabetes, medically known as diabetes mellitus, refers to a group of metabolic diseases marked by inadequate control of blood sugar levels. Often, these metabolic conditions are chronic.
Three types of diabetes include type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes mellitus can occur when insulin issues arise.
Insulin and Blood Glucose Levels
Insulin is an important hormone that is produced by the pancreas. Its main job is to help regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels through metabolism.
The foods we eat, especially carbohydrates, are broken down (metabolized) into glucose. From there, it enters the bloodstream. This process signals the pancreas to release insulin, which helps push glucose into the cells as fuel for energy.
Once this occurs, insulin levels are supposed to drop as glucose levels in the bloodstream fall. This is how metabolism normally occurs.
However, diabetes can develop when this process of metabolism is interrupted. When blood sugar is too low, it’s called hypoglycemia. High blood sugar is known as hyperglycemia.
In the case of diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough or any insulin or cannot use insulin effectively (or both).
Insulin Resistance During Pregnancy
Gestational diabetes is diagnosed when the body cannot produce enough insulin or use it effectively during pregnancy (or a combination of both). While some insulin resistance is due to weight gain and hormonal changes, the exact cause of gestational diabetes onset is not fully understood.
Many healthcare researchers believe it could have something to do with the overproduction of hormones by the placenta during pregnancy.
What Are the Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes?
In most cases, a risk assessment for gestational diabetes is performed during a woman’s first prenatal visit. According to the American Diabetes Association, women who develop gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.
There are numerous risk factors for gestational diabetes to be aware of; the most common gestational diabetes risk factors include:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Being 25 years of age or older
- A family history of type 2 diabetes
- A diagnosis of prediabetes
- High blood pressure prior/during pregnancy
- A previous birth to a baby weighing over nine lbs.
- A previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes
The risk of gestational diabetes is also higher among certain ethnic and racial groups. These include Hispanic and Latino Americans, some Asian American groups, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans.
What Are the Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes?
In many cases, gestational diabetes presents no noticeable symptoms. For those that do experience symptoms, they’re typically mild.
Some common symptoms of gestational diabetes include:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Weight gain
In some cases, gestational diabetes can worsen other conditions, such as preeclampsia (increased blood pressure during pregnancy) during later trimesters.
It can also increase the risk of having a larger-than-average baby (macrosomia). This higher birth weight can put the mother at risk for an emergency cesarean delivery (C-section).
Other conditions that could affect the baby due to gestational diabetes include low blood sugar at birth and a higher risk of stillbirth.
Five Ways To Prevent Gestational Diabetes
There are many ways to help keep gestational diabetes at bay (though it is not completely preventable). Most involve simple lifestyle changes that can greatly impact your overall health and promote a healthy pregnancy.
1. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight Going Into Pregnancy
Being at a healthy weight going into pregnancy puts you at an advantage when it comes to avoiding gestational diabetes. It is no surprise that obesity is at the heart of many serious conditions, including diabetes and metabolic disorders.
Furthermore, obstetrician research has shown many connections between gestational weight gain and an increased risk of gestational diabetes. Women with a BMI (body mass index) greater than 25 have a higher risk of developing.
This is why maintaining a healthy body going into pregnancy is so important.
2. Maintain a Healthy Diet Throughout Pregnancy
You could say that the prevention of gestational diabetes starts in the kitchen. Healthy eating is important no matter who you are, but it becomes even more so when you’re pregnant.
Of course, eating healthy foods and a balanced diet is hard when you face issues of morning sickness, food aversions, and cravings. But, avoiding unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy is crucial in preventing gestational diabetes.
A healthy diet can include the following foods:
- Healthy fats. These could come from nuts, avocados, olive, or coconut oils.
- Complex carbs. These include high-fiber whole grains, cereals, and brown rice.
- Lean meats. These include fish, chicken, certain cuts of beef, and even beans.
- Fruits and vegetables. Including fruits with less natural sugar and non-starchy cruciferous vegetables.
Foods to avoid include processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and foods loaded with added sugar, like juices, sodas, etc.
But, there is some good news. Plenty of gestational diabetes-friendly dessert options can help curb the pregnancy sweet tooth.
Some dietary supplements can provide some of the missing vitamins and nutrients for those who can’t stomach certain foods. If you need help with a healthy meal plan, ask your doctor if they have any referrals for trusted dietitians or nutritionists in your area.
👩🍳📚 Quick and Easy Gestational Diabetes Cookbook: 30-Minute, 5-Ingredient, and One-Pot Recipes: 4.5 star review and written by Joanna Foley RD.
👩🍳📚 The Gestational Diabetes Cookbook & Meal Plan: A Balanced Eating Guide for You and Your Baby: 4.5 star review and written by Joanna Foley RD & Traci Houston.
Who is Joanna Foley RD? Joanna has been a Registered Dietitian for 7 years. She works as a freelance writer and author for a number of media outlets in the health & wellness field. She is also owner of her private nutrition counseling practice at www.joannafoleynutrition.com, where she strives to help others find food freedom by using an intuitive eating approach to help transform their relationship with food and create positive eating environments.
3. Maintain a Daily Exercise Routine During Pregnancy
Regular exercise goes hand in hand with a balanced diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity is always a part of any diabetes care plan, but it’s just as important in preventing the onset of it.
Multiple studies have shown the effectiveness of daily exercise in preventing the development of gestational diabetes. Doing at least 30 minutes of strenuous activity about three to four times a week can help lower blood glucose levels.
While certain movements may get harder the further along in pregnancy, simple aerobic exercises are suitable for most pregnant women. Low-impact exercises are generally safest in the later trimesters of pregnancy.
Some aerobic exercises include:
- Walking (low-impact)
- Swimming (low-impact)
- Elliptical trainer
4. Maintain Routine Care Appointments During Pregnancy
Aside from maintaining a healthy weight, a balanced diet, and a daily exercise regimen, sticking to routine care appointments is key.
Regular appointments with your healthcare professional can help you stay ahead of potential risks, such as gestational diabetes or changes in health information.
Ultrasounds, exams, and screening tests are all used to ensure a healthy pregnancy. These routine appointments can help catch any warning signs early.
5. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule During Pregnancy
Getting a solid seven to eight hours of sleep is easier said than done. This is especially true when a baby is tossing and turning inside your belly at night.
But, there is a connection between sleep and blood glucose: poor sleep has been linked to insulin resistance.
Poor sleep has a trickle-down effect that leads to stress. The hormones released during stress, like cortisol, can also contribute to insulin resistance.
The good news is that a healthy diet and routine exercise can help mitigate the effects of stress and make it easier to get your eight hours of nightly snoozing.
Testing and Treatment for Gestational Diabetes
Screenings for gestational diabetes should already be a part of your regular care visits, especially during the second trimester of pregnancy.
Your healthcare provider will administer a glucose tolerance test that involves drinking a sugary solution on a fasted stomach. They will then draw blood to check blood glucose levels.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, the prevention items above will most likely be part of your care program. In addition, medications like metformin are sometimes prescribed to help control blood sugar levels.
The Bottom Line
Gestational diabetes affects how the body responds to insulin during pregnancy. If left unchecked, it can bring some serious complications.
Thankfully, this condition is preventable. The most effective preventative measures involve lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.
However, it is important to consult your healthcare professional or OB/GYN before making drastic diet changes. Check out the Diabetic.org for more information.
References, Studies and Sources:
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus | ADA Journal
Gestational Weight Gain and Risk of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus | PMC
What can help prevent gestational diabetes? | NIH
Sleep & Glucose: How Blood Sugar Can Affect Rest | Sleep Foundation
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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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