Caring for your health after having gestational diabetes

Managing gestational diabetes is a major life change. For many women who have the condition, it can create financial, physical, and mental stress that they’ve never before experienced. Although gestational diabetes often resolves after delivery, half of these women who experience it develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. This means that post-birth maintenance, including adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet, is necessary to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Because of this risk, it’s common for women who have experienced gestational diabetes to feel stressed or anxious even after giving birth. They worry about how they’re going to manage their health in the short- and long-term future, while simultaneously caring for a newborn baby. If you’ve had these fears, rest assured that there are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes in the future after having gestational diabetes.

Get tolerance tested

For half of women with gestational diabetes, the condition completely resolves after pregnancy. To check on your glucose-processing, your healthcare provider will most likely schedule you for a 2-hour glucose tolerance test roughly 6 weeks after you deliver. Afterwards, you might need to be tested every 1-3 years, and according to the American Diabetes Association this can be done using any approved glycemic test. 

Maintain your physical health

You’re probably aware of the fact that having gestational diabetes increases your future risk of type 2 diabetes. Generally speaking, the risk of developing the condition is around 10% per year. And this risk is cumulative, meaning that every year it gets bigger. Five years after pregnancy, a woman who experienced gestational diabetes will have a future type 2 diabetes risk of around 50%. However, women who become fit and healthy after pregnancy have a lifetime risk of about 25% – much lower than the average. By maintaining a healthy weight for your height and body type, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly, you could significantly reduce your lifetime risk of developing diabetes.

Know how breastfeeding affects blood glucose

Research suggests that breastfeeding can decrease your and your baby’s chances of developing diabetes later in life, which is a major plus. Breastfeeding also tends to improve postpartum glucose tolerance in the days immediately following birth.

There isn’t quite enough data to show whether or not breastfeeding has long-term benefits on glucose tolerance, but it’s clear that breastfeeding will help you in the immediate time period after you give birth.

Focus on your AND baby’s health

It’s easy for new parents to neglect their health in the months following delivery, but women who experienced gestational diabetes can’t afford to put their own health aside. While your baby’s needs are absolutely a priority right now, yours are too. Try your best to eat a healthy diet, exercise at least a few times a week, and get the sleep your body needs – your family’s health depends on it!

Communicate with your healthcare provider

Gestational diabetes isn’t always an easy thing to manage or understand, and just because you aren’t pregnant anymore doesn’t mean things are suddenly crystal clear. Don’t ever feel as though you can’t ask your provider or another professional for answers that could make you healthier and happier.

Don’t be afraid to ask for social, financial, and/or mental support

Gestational diabetes can be extremely stressful, and worrying about the risks of developing type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes again can overwhelm any new mother, no matter how prepared she is. Many new mothers diagnosed with gestational diabetes say they felt left behind in the days following childbirth; after so much attention was given to them in pregnancy, they didn’t feel as supported after leaving the hospital.

If this happens to you, know that there are lots of ways that you can get support. The first step is reaching out – to a partner, friend, family member, healthcare provider, neighbor, or new mothers’ group, depending on what you need. Don’t feel like you have to minimize your fears or keep a ‘brave face’ just because your pregnancy has ended. Treatment is possible, and it’s available.

Life after gestational diabetes

Transitioning away from gestational diabetes to a healthy, post-pregnancy lifestyle takes awareness, effort and attention to one’s physical and mental health. It might feel overwhelming at first to focus on you and your new baby’s needs, but consider it an accelerated opportunity to establish healthy lifelong habits for you both. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out for others’ support is one of the best things a new mom can do. 

  • Raising Children Network. “Postnatal depression: Caring for your partner.” Raising Children Network, April 27 2014. Web.
  • “What I need to know about Gestational Diabetes.” NIDDK. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, Sep 2014. Web.
  • Chris Iliades, MD. “Gestational Diabetes Care After Childbirth.” EverydayHealth. Everyday Health Media, LLC., Jan 29 2015. Web.
  • “Gestational Diabetes: What It Means for You and Your Baby.” AAFP. American Academy of Family Physicians, 1;60(3):1004-1005. Sep 1 1999. Web.
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