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You’re having a baby! What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes

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You’re having a baby! What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes

Congratulations, you’re having a baby! If you know many other new moms, you may have heard of a condition called gestational diabetes. What is this odd sounding type of diabetes? Are you at risk? How can you prevent it?

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) occurs when your pregnancy has caused your body to struggle with controlling your blood sugar. When a woman becomes pregnant, her body becomes less sensitive to insulin, which is the compound in your blood that allows glucose (sugar) to enter your muscles and brain to give you energy. Most women release more insulin to counteract this, but women with GDM don’t release enough extra. This causes high blood glucose levels.

Why do you want to avoid high blood glucose levels?

These high blood sugar levels could not only cause complications for you and your baby, but it’s also a window to the future. A diagnosis of GDM means you’re at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy. But it’s not written in stone – making changes now can prevent diabetes later. This diagnosis can be a wake-up call for many women to change their lifestyle habits to lead disease-free, healthy lives.

Who is at highest risk for developing gestational diabetes?

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes after GDM is different across ethnic groups. Comparing to women who never had GDM, this table shows how much more likely a woman with GDM will develop diabetes later:

Non-Hispanic White

6.5x more likely
Hispanic 7.7x more likely
Black 9.9x more likely
Asian/Pacific Islanders 6.3x more likely (1)

This is why it’s important to know if you develop gestational diabetes, so you and your doctor can take the appropriate steps to dia-BEAT-it and stay healthy! Your doctor should do a test for gestational diabetes between 24-28 weeks of your pregnancy, so if they don’t, ask them to (2). You’ll have to fast for the test and they’ll give you a glucose drink, then test your blood sugar.

1 in 10 pregnant women will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes (3)

What are the need-to-know risk factors?

  • Being overweight (4)
  • Having taken medicine for recurrent preterm births (Delalutin, Proluton, Makena, Prodrox, Hylutin) (5),
  • Being over the age of 40 (6)
  • Women who have Asian, Indian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern ethnicity (7)
  • Women with a history of infertility (7)
  • Women who have had GM in a previous pregnancy (6)
  • Women who have a first degree relative with diabetes (2)

If you have one of these risk factors, you can help prevent gestational diabetes by taking probiotics before and during pregnancy (2). You can also help prevent diabetes with a healthy diet, choosing whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to make up most of your meals. Even when you’re pregnant, try to get regular physical activity. Walking is always a free, easy option. Try water aerobics once you’re further along to ease pressure on your joints.

What are the keys of prevention?

Another key aspect of the prevention of GDM and type 2 diabetes is weight management. While you don’t want to lose weight during pregnancy, it’s important to gain the appropriate amount of weight to support your baby. Pregnancy isn’t a free-for-all, eat as much as you want situation. You’ll need to eat the most nutrient-dense, healthy whole foods to be your best. So gain weight according to your doctor’s guidelines. Also, now is the time to start preparing for breastfeeding before the baby comes, consider taking a class. Breastfeeding can help lower the chance of your baby being overweight later in life. Gestational Diabetes, can also be an opportunity to help your family make healthier choices. 

If you do get diagnosed, remember that this is a warning sign for future diabetes that not everyone gets. You are lucky to have the chance to prevent diabetes before it’s too late.

  2. Garrison, A. (2015). Screening, Diagnosis, and Management of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Apr 1;91(7):460-467.
  4. Mahan, L., Escott-Stump, S., & Raymond, J. (2012). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process (13th ed.). St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier/Saunders.
  5. Waters, T.P, et al. (2009). Effect of 17 a-hydroxyprogesterone caproate on glucose intolerance in pregnancy, Obstet Gynecol, 14:45
  6. Teh, W. T., Teede, H. J., Paul, E., Harrison, C. L., Wallace, E. M. and Allan, C. (2011). Risk factors for gestational diabetes mellitus: Implications for the application of screening guidelines. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 51: 26–30. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2011.01292.x
  7. Berkowitz, G. S., Robert, H. L., Wein, R., and Lee, D. (1992). Race/Ethnicity and Other Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes. Am. J. Epidemiol, 135 (9): 965-973

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About the Author

Picture of Morgan Bookheimer, MS, RDN

Morgan Bookheimer, MS, RDN

Morgan Bookheimer is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a M.S. from Teachers College, Columbia University. She also has her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell University. Morgan enjoys cooking and yoga, and she believes healthy food should be fun, easy and delicious!

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