What you need to know about gestational diabetes
The 12th to the 16th of February is Pregnancy Awareness Week, an excellent opportunity to discuss one of the most common forms of diabetes: gestational diabetes. It is estimated that between 3% and 20% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, depending on their risk factors. We asked Pick n Pay’s dietician Leanne Kiezer for some helpful tips.
All pregnant women should be screened for gestational diabetes between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. Women who are at high risk for undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes should be screened earlier than 20 weeks of pregnancy. This information, compiled by Diabetes Canada, helps to clarify some of the common myths and misconceptions around gestational diabetes, as well as offering some tips for its management.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Your body cannot produce enough insulin to handle the effects of a growing baby and changing hormone levels. Insulin helps your body to control the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. If your body cannot produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels will rise.
The good news
- Your baby will not be born with diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes can be managed and you can expect to have a happy, healthy baby.
What does gestational diabetes mean for my baby?
If left undiagnosed or untreated, gestational diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels. This increases the risk that your baby will weigh more than 4kg (9lbs) and will have a difficult delivery. Gestational diabetes can also increase the risk of your baby becoming overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes in the future. It is important to breastfeed immediately after delivery for at least four months, if you can, to help reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes for your baby.
What does gestational diabetes mean for me?
A diagnosis of gestational diabetes means you will be working closely with your health-care team to manage your blood sugar levels and keep them in the target range. This will help you avoid complications in labour and delivery. After your baby is born, blood sugar levels will usually return to normal. However, you are at greater risk for gestational diabetes in your next pregnancy and of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future. Achieving a healthy weight in the normal BMI range can help reduce this risk.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes
- 35 years of age or older
- From a high-risk group (African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, or South Asian descent)
- Corticosteroid medication
- Given birth to a baby that weighed more than 4kg
- Gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- Obesity (BMI of 30kg/m2 or higher)
- A parent, brother or sister with Type 2 diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin)
How is gestational diabetes managed?
Choose a healthy diet
Ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian to learn about healthy eating during pregnancy. Try eating low-glycemic index foods (e.g. whole grains, legumes), spread over three meals and two snacks to help manage your blood sugar.
Be aware of pregnancy weight gain
The amount of weight you gain will vary depending on your weight before your pregnancy. Weight loss is not recommended. Talk to your health-care provider about appropriate weight gain for you.
Be physically active
Regular physical activity can help control your blood sugar levels. It can also help you:
- Boost your energy
- Sleep better
- Reduce stress
- Reduce pregnancy discomfort
- Prepare for childbirth
- Get your body back faster after childbirth
Talk to your health-care provider about the right type and amount of activity for you.
Check your blood sugar at home
Checking and tracking your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter will help you and your health-care team manage your pregnancy and diabetes.
Take medication, if needed
Sometimes healthy eating and physical activity are not enough to manage blood sugar levels and your health-care provider may recommend insulin injections or pills for the duration of your pregnancy. Medication will help keep your blood sugar level within your target range. This will help to keep you and your baby in good health.
Your health-care team can answer your questions and support you through this important time in your life. Your team may include your doctor, nurse and dietitian, but remember: the most important member of your health-care team is you!
What to read next
The challenge of gestational diabetes: Celeste Smith is no stranger to diabetes symptoms in women… She’s had gestational diabetes twice, including during her pregnancy with now-five-year-old twins Connor and Adam. We find out what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.
What are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? Finally! An easy explanation: What are the different types of diabetes? It’s one of the questions we get asked a lot on South Africans with Diabetes. This article explains the three main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.
Eat healthy for diabetes: The one diabetes and diet article you need to read.