Diabetes and Pregnancy

By Winnie Natu, MSIV

It is important to remember that diabetes can affect people in any stage of life, including  pregnancy! Termed ‘gestational diabetes mellitus’ (GDM), it is critical we raise awareness about this topic as it can have life changing effects not only on mom, but on baby too.

What is it?
GDM is a type of diabetes that is first seen in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before she was pregnant. It usually shows up in the middle of pregnancy.  Like other types of diabetes, it occurs due to resistance to insulin, which is increased because of the different hormones the body produces and balances during pregnancy.

Am I at risk for getting it?
The most important risk factors for developing GDM are:
  • Age over 30
  • Family history of Type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Certain ethnic backgrounds—Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Polynesian
  • GDM in a previous pregnancy
  • Previous difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term
  • Previous birth of a baby weighing more than 4 kg.
How do I know if I have it?
Doctors test for GDM between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy with a glucose challenge test. One hour after drinking a glucose solution, you will have a blood test to measure your blood sugar level. If it is higher than 130 to 140 mg/dL, it means you are at risk of gestational diabetes and will need a follow-up test. This time, you will have your fasting blood sugar level measured and then you will drink another sweet drink. Your blood sugar level will be checked every hour for three hours and if at least two of the readings are higher than normal, you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

How does it affect me and my baby?
GDM causes baby’s blood sugar to be very high, which means the baby is overfed and grows to be very large. This can cause problems for both mom and baby during delivery and it may be necessary to have a C-section. Because of baby’s size, he or she may be born with nerve damage or shoulder abnormalities. GDM can also raise mom’s blood pressure and cause “preeclampsia”, which might lead to the baby being born early, seizures, or a stroke. Lastly, if GDM is not well-controlled, baby can quickly develop low blood sugar after birth which can be very serious, even fatal. 

How can I prevent it?
Follow a healthy dietincluding foods high in iron (fully cooked red meat), folic acid (green leafys) and calcium (pasteurized dairy). Lots of fruits and veggies with only moderate carbohydrates (pasta, bread, etc.). It is crucial to maintain a healthy weight! Generally, you should gain about 2 to 4 pounds during the first three months and then 1 pound a week during the rest of your pregnancy. Engage in regular and safe exercises including walking, swimming, low intensity aerobics, or pilates.

For more user-friendly and complete information about gestational diabetes, please visit the following resources:

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