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Balancing Pregnancy and Diabetes

Updated: Nov 11



November is American Diabetes Month, a time when communities across the country come together to bring attention to diabetes. This year’s focus is on managing diabetes by building your health care team.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot use the sugars and starches (carbohydrates) it takes in as food to make energy. The body makes little to no insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes to change those sugars and starches into energy.

The three most common types of diabetes are:

Type 1: The pancreas makes no insulin or so little insulin that the body can’t use blood sugar for energy. Type 1 diabetes must be controlled with daily insulin.

Type 2: The body either makes too little insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes to use blood sugar for energy. Sometimes type 2 diabetes can be controlled through eating a proper diet and exercising regularly. Many people with type 2 diabetes have to take diabetes pills, insulin, or both.

Gestational:This is a type of diabetes that is first seen in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before she was pregnant. Gestational diabetes can be controlled through eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Sometimes a woman with gestational diabetes must also take insulin.

Every year, 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes.

Problems caused by diabetes in pregnancy:

  • Birth defects

  • Blood sugar that is not in control can affect infant organ development while they are being formed and cause serious birth defects in the developing baby, such as those of the brain, spine, and heart.

  • An extra large baby

  • Diabetes that is not well controlled causes the baby’s blood sugar to be high. The baby is “overfed” and grows extra large.

  • C- Section (Cesarean Section)

  • A C-section is a surgery to deliver the baby through the mother’s belly. A woman who has diabetes that is not well controlled has a higher chance of needing a C-section to deliver the baby and increase her postpartum recovery time.

  • High Blood Pressure (Preeclampsia)

  • When a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, protein in her urine, and often swelling in fingers and toes that doesn’t go away, she might have preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia should be diagnosed and monitored by your doctor.

  • Early (Preterm) Birth

  • Women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are more likely to deliver early than women without diabetes.

  • Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

  • People with diabetes who take insulin or other diabetes medications can develop blood sugar that is too low. Low blood sugar can be very serious, and even fatal, if not treated quickly.

  • If a woman’s diabetes was not well controlled during pregnancy, her baby can very quickly develop low blood sugar after birth. The baby’s blood sugar must be watched for several hours after delivery.

  • Miscarriage or Stillbirth

  • A woman who has diabetes that is not well controlled has a higher chance of having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Tips for Women with Diabetes

If you have diabetes, keeping blood sugar well controlled before and during pregnancy, can increase your chances of having a healthy baby. Monitoring this consistently is the best for a healthy pregnancy.

  • Plan for Pregnancy

  • Before getting pregnant, see your doctor. The doctor needs to look at the effects that diabetes has had on your body already, talk with you about getting and keeping control of your blood sugar, change medications if needed, and plan for frequent follow-up. If you are overweight, the doctor might recommend that you try to lose weight before getting pregnant as part of the plan to get your blood sugar in control.

  • See Your Doctor Early and Often

  • During pregnancy, a woman with diabetes needs to see the doctor more often than a pregnant woman without diabetes. Together, you and your doctor can work to prevent or catch problems early.

  • Eat Healthy Foods

  • Eat healthy foods from a meal plan made for a person with diabetes. A dietitian can help you create a healthy meal plan. A dietitian can also help you learn how to control your blood sugar while you are pregnant.

  • Exercise Regularly

  • Exercise is another way to keep blood sugar under control. It helps to balance food intake. After checking with your doctor, you can exercise regularly before, during, and after pregnancy. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week. This could be brisk walking, swimming, or actively playing with children.

  • Take Pills and Insulin as Directed

  • If diabetes pills or insulin are ordered by your doctor, take them as directed in order to help keep your blood sugar under control.

  • Control and Treat Low Blood Sugar Quickly

  • Keeping blood sugar well controlled can lead to a chance of low blood sugar at times. If you are taking diabetes pills or insulin, it’s helpful to have a source of quick sugar, such as hard candy, glucose tablets or gel, on hand at all times. It’s also good to teach family members and close co-workers or friends how to help in case of a severe low blood sugar reaction.

  • Monitor Blood Sugar Often

  • Because pregnancy causes the body’s need for energy to change, blood sugar levels can change very quickly. You need to check your blood sugar often, as directed by your doctor. It is important to learn how to adjust food intake, exercise, and insulin, depending on the results of your blood sugar tests

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