When a woman has gestational diabetes mellitus (also called GDM), her body doesn’t always convert sugar from food into energy correctly. This causes her blood sugar levels to get too high and puts her at risk of certain health conditions like high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and an increased likelihood of delivery by C-section. It also increases the chances of long-term complications like GDM in future pregnancies, as well as the emergence of type 2 diabetes later in life.
For all these reasons and more, preventing GDM, or managing it if you’ve been diagnosed, is an essential part of keeping you and your little one safe and healthy.
Weight gain in pregnancy: a risk factor?
Women of all sizes and medical histories can develop GDM, but certain risk factors increase one’s risk of developing the condition. For example, women are more at risk of gestational diabetes if they have a high BMI when they enter pregnancy, a family history of type 2 diabetes, or even if they are over the age of 25.
Here’s where gestational weight gain comes in. While a certain amount of weight gain is absolutely necessary for a healthy pregnancy, it appears as though gaining weight quickly in the first trimester may put women at higher risk of GDM. This might be because fast weight gain this early in pregnancy exhausts the cells that release insulin, causing insulin resistance and eventually GDM, as the authors of one study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2010 suggest, but other links are possible as well.
Preventing gestational diabetes
More research is needed to determine the exact link between pregnancy weight gain and gestational diabetes. But for the most part, while there isn’t a way to completely prevent GDM, you can do a few things to lower your risk.
- Limit certain foods: You don’t have to completely limit sweets, but definitely make a point to reduce the amount of sugar that you get in your diet.
- Change your carbs: Try switching from refined carbohydrates to whole wheat, fiber-rich ones. They’ll keep you fuller longer and are a more nutritious option.
- Exercise regularly: Once you get the go-ahead from your provider, exercise will help you stay healthy in pregnancy and reduce your risk of complications like GDM.
- Stay healthy after delivery: Maintaining a healthy weight helps lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future, or GDM in a future pregnancy.
Managing gestational diabetes after a diagnosis
If you are diagnosed with GDM, your provider will come up with a detailed plan to help you manage the condition throughout pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you monitor your blood sugar during pregnancy, as well as how many carbs you eat every day. You will also probably be advised to do the following:
- Go to all your appointments: If you have gestational diabetes, your provider will need to monitor it in order to keep you healthy. At these appointments, he or she will help you understand more about gestational diabetes, and help you come up with a plan to manage it.
- Modify your diet: This means eating healthy foods and reducing the amount of sugar and carbohydrates that you eat.
- Get regular exercise: As long as your provider approves, exercise is especially helpful for women with gestational diabetes. It regulates blood glucose levels which keeps blood sugar in check.
- Monitor weight gain: Even, and especially, after a GDM diagnosis, maintaining a balanced weight gain is critical.
- Take medicine if necessary: Some women need to take medication to manage their gestational diabetes, though most providers try managing the effects of GDM with diet and exercise modifications before moving on to medications.
Weight gain is crucial for a healthy pregnancy, but it’s not just how much weight you gain. The way that you gain weight matters, too. Certain lifestyle habits, like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and going to your appointments with your provider, can put you in a great position to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, and this is especially true in the beginning of pregnancy when most women don’t need to gain much weight. If you have any question about this, or your risk, make sure to bring them up to your provider. He or she can tell you more about your unique situation.
- “Pregnancy and birth: Weight gain in pregnancy.” NCBI. PubMed Health, US National Library of Medicine, Mar 2014. Web. Accessed 7/10/17. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072759/.
- MM Hedderson, et al. “Gestational weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.” Obstet Gynecol. 115(3):597-604. Web. Mar 2010.
- Jennifer Tomaselli, MSN, RNC. “FAQs about Gestational Diabetes.” TheDiabetesCouncil. TheDiabetesCouncil.com, Apr 2017. Web. Accessed 7/10/17. Available at https://www.thediabetescouncil.com/gestational-diabetes-faq/#FAQ15.
- Carlos A Carreno, et al. “Excessive Early Gestational Weight Gain And Risk of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Nulliparous Women.” Obstet Gynecol. 119(6):1227-1233. Web. Jun 2012.
- “Weight Gain During Pregnancy.” ACOG. Committee Opinion No. 548 from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Jan 2013. Web. Accessed 7/10/17. Available at https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Weight-Gain-During-Pregnancy.
- “Gestational Diabetes.” ACOG. FAQ177 from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Sep 2013. Web. Accessed 7/10/17. Available at https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Gestational-Diabetes.