Gestational diabetes is a common complication of pregnancy, affecting up to 9.2% of women who are pregnant. Mothers who develop diabetes in pregnancy are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life, and have a 30% to 50% higher risk of diabetes in a later pregnancy. However, making lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as breastfeeding your baby, may significantly improve your health after giving birth. Let’s take a closer look at what the research tells us about reducing risk of developing diabetes after gestational diabetes.
- Weight loss: Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the primary strategies for preventing diabetes for women with a history of gestational diabetes. A prospective study showed that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases by 16% for every kilogram gained during pregnancy. To help you stay on track, consider keeping a food diary and planning meals at home. Be sure to talk with your doctor or dietitian about an eating plan and exercise regimen to lose weight healthily after having your baby.
- Diet: Healthy eating patterns can prevent gestational diabetes and the progression to type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes and Women’s Health Study showed that an eating plan high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while consuming less red and processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages, is associated with lowered risk of gestational diabetes and subsequent diabetes. Focus on plant-based meals that are high in fiber to help you ward off complications in the future.
- Breastfeeding: Many women have been counseled on breastfeeding by their doctors, and for those with a history of gestational diabetes there are added health benefits. A study that looked at how lactation protects against diabetes after pregnancy showed a 40% decrease in the risk of long-term diabetes if breastfeeding was sustained longer than three months. Therefore, if you can continue breastfeeding, it may be worth a try for your long-term health.
- Exercise: Getting out and about, even if just for regular walks, can help you ward off diabetes. The Nurses’ Health Study II showed that for every 100 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, mothers with a history of gestational diabetes reduced their risk of advancing to type 2 diabetes by 9%, and those who increased their activity to 150 minutes per week saw a 47% reduction of risk! On the flip side, those that spent six to ten hours per week watching television were over 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Finding fun and exciting ways to add activity into your week, like walking, dancing, or hiking, will make you more likely to stick with a routine – and taking along your kiddo is encouraged!
Taking care of ourselves can be challenging after having a baby. We put our children first, as we should, but we must remember we are important too! Modeling healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods and staying active can help you achieve your health goals while showing our kids that caring about health is important. For more information talk with your doctor or dietitian about a personalized plan after gestational diabetes.
About the author: Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.
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