Diabetes can develop in pregnancy (gestational diabetes). It affects mum and baby. Good control of blood sugar is key to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Pregnancy can be a stressful experience. If a problem like gestational diabetes is added to it, the anxiety increases. The good news is that blood sugars can be controlled, sometimes only by diet. You need to educate yourself and take control of your health. Make it a wake-up call and give priority to your health.
I have a strong family history of diabetes. With my first pregnancy, there was a slight rise in my blood sugars. I cut down on carbohydrates and my blood sugar came right down. My daughter weighed 4.1 kg, so clearly, I had an element of gestational diabetes.
With my son, who was born 2 years later, my blood sugars remained normal throughout.
I had another pregnancy after 3 years. This time I developed gestational diabetes at 16 weeks of pregnancy. My blood sugar was sky high and I needed high doses of insulin.
As I knew all about the problems that could happen with the pregnancy, it was a particularly difficult time for me. I had lost my father to diabetes a few years back. He had developed gangrene of the foot.
I had a fear of diabetes.
Alhamdulillah, my pregnancy was otherwise smooth, both for my youngest son and I. My sugar levels were back to normal in a matter of days.
I had yearly checkups where all remained well. I developed diabetes 15 years later.
It is controlled so far with oral medication. I am much more conscious of my health now than I used to be.
What is gestational diabetes
High blood sugar developing for the first in pregnancy is called gestational diabetes
. It usually improves soon after childbirth. Sugar levels go back to normal.
The hormonal changes
that occur in pregnancy increase the need for insulin. The pancreas (where insulin is produced) works fine normally. But with the extra strain, it is unable to keep increasing the insulin production. Blood sugars rise.
As soon as the extra strain goes away with delivery, blood sugars return to normal.
High blood sugars in pregnancy can cause problems for mum and baby.
Usually gestational diabetes is fairly easy to control by diet and sometimes medication.
Am I at risk of gestational diabetes?
Some women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
You have an increased risk if:
- Overweight With BMI over 30.
- Diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
- A close family member with diabetes.
- A previous baby who weighed more than 4.5 kg.
- Race- more common in South Asian, Middle Eastern, Black, or African-Caribbean women.
How can it affect my pregnancy
If blood sugars are not controlled there may be problems for you and your baby.
On the other hand, if you can maintain good control of blood sugars, pregnancy can be smooth with hardly any problems.
- High blood pressure – You have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure in pregnancy. Some women can get preeclampsia.
- Higher chance of having a Caesarean section
- Developing diabetes later on in life
How it can affect your baby:
- Large birth weight – babies can be large, especially if diabetes is not well controlled. This can result in long labour and sometimes difficult birth. Many women will have a caesarean section either as a planned operation, or sometimes during labour.
- Preterm birth – some babies may be born before their due date. If born too early they may need to be in the baby unit for a while. Preterm babies may need support with their breathing.
- Low blood sugar – following birth some babies may have low blood sugars and may need to be in the baby unit.
- Jaundice – babies may sometimes need special care if they develop yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Stillbirth – although rare, some babies may die in the womb or shortly after birth.
Screening for diabetes
Women who are at higher risk to develop gestational diabetes are offered a screening test. If you have 1 or more risk factors you will be offered an OGTT
(oral glucose tolerance test) at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy.
If you have had gestational diabetes in an earlier pregnancy, you will have a screening OGTT at 16 weeks. If that is normal, it is repeated again at 24-28 weeks.
If your blood sugar levels suggest that you have diabetes, you will then be followed up in a consultant-led clinic for the duration of your pregnancy. You will be taught how to monitor your blood sugar levels using a glucometer (blood sugar measuring kit).
The dietician will discuss how you can cut down on carbohydrates and keep your sugar levels in check.
Occasionally, some women may need oral medication or insulin injections.
You will have regular ultrasound scans to see the growth of the baby.
If there are concerns about your blood sugar control or the health of the baby, your doctor will discuss about early delivery of the baby.
If you are at risk of gestational diabetes, or have had it in a previous pregnancy, try these health choices:
- Eat healthily – Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Eat small portions. Aim to eat foods high in fibre with low fats and calories. Try cooking healthy recipes that the whole family enjoys. This will reduce your workload. There is nothing more tiresome than to cook separate meals.
- Exercise – Try and get 30 minutes of exercise every day. If you a busy housewife, try taking the stairs more often. Walk to the shops rather than drive. If you are pregnant, make sure you discuss with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
- Healthy weight – If you are planning a pregnancy and are overweight, try and lose weight before you start a pregnancy. This is the time to incorporate healthy food and exercise habits that you can continue into your pregnancy and beyond.
If you are on this page, either browsing through, or are at risk of gestational diabetes, make sure you use this moment to redefine focus on your health. Make small changes in your diet and exercise habits that you can keep up.
Small baby steps towards a healthier you.
Do you have any tips on how to incorporate healthy eating habits and an exercise routine in a fun and easy way?
Please share below.