When a woman develops diabetes during her pregnancy, this phenomenon is called gestational diabetes. And it’s not uncommon; 6 to 9 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, and the percentage of women with gestational diabetes has sharply risen (by more than 50 percent) in the last decade.
Challenges and complications of gestational diabetes
While diabetes during pregnancy usually disappears sometime after delivery, women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. In addition, a woman with gestational diabetes must take precautions to keep her blood sugars under control. If a woman’s blood sugars are uncontrolled throughout her pregnancy, her baby is at risk for birth defects, preterm birth, or stillbirth, as well as developing type 2 diabetes or obesity later in life.
Risk factors of diabetes during pregnancy
Although any woman can develop gestational diabetes, some are more at risk. Women who are obese or overweight, have prediabetes, or have polycystic ovary syndrome have a higher chance of developing diabetes during their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can also be genetic; women who have a family member with diabetes are also at risk for the condition. Finally, non-white women (black, Asian, or Hispanic) have a heightened risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes
Numerous studies have shown that having gestational diabetes increases a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes at any point during her life, by up to 60 percent. However, there are some things a woman can do to prevent the development of both gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
- Eat healthy. During pregnancy, it’s important to eat healthy foods to avoid excess weight gain (which can increase risk of diabetes). Avoid junk food and focus on getting enough fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains like wheat bread and brown rice in your diet.
- Stay physically active. Having a fitness routine will minimize your risk of gestational diabetes. There’s no need to overdo it, but 30 minutes of physical activity a day is a good goal to shoot for.
- Don’t smoke. The dangers of smoking while pregnant are well-known, but did you know that smoking while pregnant increases your risk of diabetes, both during pregnancy and after? A 2019 study found that pregnant women who smoke are at higher risk of developing diabetes–yet another reason to quit tobacco before deciding to have a child.
- Lose some weight before you get pregnant if you’re overweight or obese. Starting off your pregnancy at an unhealthy weight can cause all sorts of issues for yourself and your unborn child. Gaining weight while pregnant is normal, but make sure you’re at a healthy weight beforehand.
Gestational diabetes is yet another possible complication of pregnancy, but in most cases, it only lasts until after delivery. You can reduce your chances of developing gestational diabetes, and type 2 diabetes at a later date, by following the advice above.