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National Diabetes Month 2018: Promoting Health after Gestational Diabetes

Millions of people around the world are living with diabetes every day, a disease that requires constant attention and thoughtful decision-making to avoid complications. This attention becomes even more important when a woman becomes pregnant and is diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Not only could the health of the mother be at risk, but also that of the baby before and even after birth. This year for National Diabetes Month, the focus is on promoting health after gestational diabetes.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes can develop in women who have never had diabetes previously but develop high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. In pregnancy, a woman’s body requires more insulin than usual to convert blood glucose into energy. However, while the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that the hormones from the placenta block the necessary action of the mother’s insulin, creating insulin resistance, making it harder for the mother’s body to use it. If the body is unable to produce enough insulin naturally, glucose levels will rise leading to hyperglycemia.

Pregnant women are tested for gestational diabetes around 24 weeks, as this issue does not develop until later in the pregnancy. Since the baby’s body has already formed, they are not at risk for the same birth defects as those who have diabetes prior to conception, but it could result in other issues if not properly managed or treated. Insulin does not cross through the placenta, but glucose and other nutrients do, so with higher glucose levels in the mother, the baby’s pancreas must work harder to create its own extra insulin. This extra energy gets stored as fat, leading to a potentially large baby, which could result in shoulder injury during birth. Once born, they may also be at risk for low blood sugar levels and breathing issues. Later in life, they will be more at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

For many mothers, gestational diabetes will disappear after the birth of the baby, but are at risk for developing it again in any future pregnancies. Some may discover underlying type 1 or type 2 diabetes that may have developed instead of perceived gestational diabetes. Those who had gestational diabetes are also at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes many years later, which also involves insulin resistance.

Treatment for Gestational Diabetes

Treatment may be as simple as watching what you eat and drink to keep blood sugar levels equivalent to pregnant women who do not have gestational diabetes. This will require meal planning, physical activity, daily glucose testing and for some, insulin injections.

If you are diagnosed, your physician will be able to guide you with a management plan that works best for you. Be sure to follow the plan provided and keep up with recommended appointments to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby, as well as help your baby have a healthy future.

After Gestational Diabetes

Because the risk of developing type 2 of diabetes is higher, it is important to continue healthy practices post-pregnancy. A glucose test will be required within 12 weeks after your baby is born to test for type 2 diabetes. If the test is normal, it will need to be repeated every 3 years as a precaution. You may also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing even a few pounds, particularly if you are more than 20% above your ideal body weight.

Be sure to make healthy food choices, including a variety of fresh produce, and limit your fat intake to 30% or less of your daily calories. Also, watch portion sizes as many items are packaged or served in much larger quantities than necessary.

Regular exercise is also a must as it allows your body to use up glucose without having to produce extra insulin. Exercise in particular helps against insulin resistance, which is the biggest factor in gestational and type 2 diabetes. Prior to starting a new exercise routine, discuss with your doctor to verify it is safe or if they have other recommendations.

How Can I Help?

You can help bring awareness to gestational diabetes, and other forms, by discussing the difficulties those affected face, as well as help clear the social stigma tied to the disease. Help support friends or family who have been diagnosed by making healthy choices with them – it will help you feel great, too. You can also donate to organizations such as the American Diabetes Association to aid in research towards finding a cure for diabetes.

For questions or concerns regarding diabetes, contact us today. We can help with any required lab testing and walk you through next steps should you receive a positive diagnosis.