01 Nov Effects of Gestational Diabetes on a Developing Baby
High blood sugar around the time of conception and throughout pregnancy increases risks of: birth defects, still birth, preterm birth, c-sections, and the baby developing obesity and diabetes later in life.¹
What is Gestational Diabetes?
November is American Diabetes Month and a great time to put a spotlight on diabetes during pregnancy, which is a rising trend in the United States. In the United States, gestational diabetes (diabetes developed during pregnancy) has increased by 56% from 2000-2010.¹
Diabetes happens when the body cannot convert the sugars and starches it consumes through food into cellular energy. This causes sugar to build in the blood. Typically, the pancreas is responsible for producing a hormone called insulin that helps convert the sugar to energy. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, the body either develops a resistance to insulin or not enough insulin is produced to lower the blood sugars.²
Gestational diabetes is when a mother develops diabetes (for the first time in her life) during pregnancy. Often, gestational diabetes resolves after giving birth. However, having gestational diabetes puts you at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life.²
A huge component of controlling Type 2 and gestational diabetes is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and being physically active every day. These two foundational behaviors help to lower blood sugars and can even reverse a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.²
What Effect Does Having High Blood Sugar Have on My Pregnancy or Baby?
Having high blood sugar in the blood around the time of conception, puts your baby at risk of being stillborn, born prematurely, or developing a birth defect in the womb. In fact, 6-12% of women who have diabetes before pregnancy have a baby with a birth defect. These birth defects can involve the heart, brain, spine and skeleton.²
Having high blood sugar throughout pregnancy increases the risk of a cesarean section birth, having a baby that is very large, and the baby developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life. These newborn infants can sometimes have trouble breathing, develop jaundice, and have low blood sugar levels after birth, leading to time in the NICU.²
What Can Mother’s Do to Manage or Lower the Risk of Developing Diabetes During Pregnancy?
There are so many important reasons to take control of existing diabetes or reduce your risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. The first step is to see your medical provider, ideally before conception, especially if you already have a diagnosis of diabetes. Obesity is also a strong risk factor for gestational diabetes. With your provider’s support and assistance, you can develop a lifestyle plan that includes a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise as a foundational measure of control. If your blood sugars are seriously uncontrolled, your plan may include oral medication or insulin. Visit Mommyato to learn more.
- Follow a healthy eating plan
- Be physically active / exercise 30 minutes a day 5 days a week
- Set a goal of a healthy body mass index (BMI) (high BMI correlates to chronic diseases like diabetes)
- Monitor blood sugars daily
- Read our post on how to have a healthy pregnancy with gestational diabetes
Check out the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, which has thousands of healthy recipes and where you can create a meal plan according to the nutritional needs of your life stage, like during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Another good resource is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Diabetes Prevention Program that offers a network of Lifestyle Change programs around the country. Making significant lifestyle changes, especially involving diet and exercise, often require community support. There is no perfect, straight line to improving health, but it often involves many stops, starts, and missteps, so be sure to build your support system around you to encourage motivation toward long lasting change. These changes will not only positively affect you and your baby, but your whole family will benefit from improved health and quality of life.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). May 2022. Pregnancy with type 1 or 2 diabetes. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/pregnancy-with-type-1-or-type-2-diabetes
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC). June 2018. Diabetes during pregnancy. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/diabetes-during-pregnancy.htm