Any woman can develop gestational diabetes (GDM), but there are certain risk factors that make it more likely for a person to develop the condition. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the risk factors associated with gestational diabetes and, if possible, find ways to lower your risk.
Certain risk factors include:
- Family history of gestational diabetes
- Personal history of gestational diabetes
- Being overweight (women with BMI over 30 are significantly more likely to develop GDM)
- Being over the age of 25
- Having PCOS or a health condition that indicates any problems with insulin
- High blood glucose
- High blood pressure
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Lifestyle factors such as low exercise, heavy use of tobacco or alcohol, or poor nutrition
- A baby weighing over 9 pounds
- History of cardiovascular disease
How can I lower my risk of gestational diabetes?
Some risk factors can’t be changed, but there are a couple of things that women can do to help avoid developing gestational diabetes.
- Diet adjustment
Certain foods decrease your body’s ability to fight off gestational diabetes, and actually increase blood sugar. Try to avoid anything that’s been heavily sweetened, like flavored juice drinks, sweet sauce like relish or ketchup, and also any other food that has a high sugar content. Fast food and deep fried food aren’t good for blood sugar levels and can lead to weight gain, so you’ll definitely want to limit these, especially during pregnancy.
Decreasing the amount of white starches, and switching to high fiber, whole grain carbohydrates can also help reduce the risk of developing GDM. You should definitely talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions, as they can recommend a meal plan that works for you.
- Adjusting meal spacing
The amount of food that you eat in a sitting has an effect on your body’s blood sugar. It’s better for your blood sugar if you eat smaller meals more frequently, as opposed to two or three large meals in a day. Try to keep your meals smaller, and to not go more than 3 hours without eating anything – in other words, schedule in some snacks.
- Getting more physical activity
The body uses sugar for energy when it exercises, so regular physical activity is an effective way to manage blood sugar levels. It’s best not to start a whole new workout regimen when pregnant without speaking to your healthcare provider, but depending on the workout, it’s probably safe to continue any workouts that you’d been doing before pregnancy (for instance, yoga yes, Greco-Roman wrestling no). Even a walk around the neighborhood a few times a week is better than nothing, and it could really make a big difference in your risk.
Even more generally than blood sugar levels, exercise helps moderate weight gain, which is so important during pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy weight gain is among the best things you can do during pregnancy to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes.
A note on weight loss
This only applies to pre-pregnancy, but prior to getting pregnant, women who are overweight or significantly overweight are encouraged to try reduce their BMI. Being a healthy weight can lower one’s risk of developing gestational diabetes.
However, during pregnancy weight gain is critical for both fetal development and the mother’s health, so women should not try to lose weight on their own once they know they are pregnant. Your healthcare provider can advise you about how much weight you should gain in your pregnancy, and how to manage your weight in pregnancy. Your healthcare provider may recommend letting weight gain during pregnancy be guided by BMI – your body mass index, or your weight in proportion with your height, taking into account your BMI at the beginning of pregnancy.
The bottom line
Making certain lifestyle changes may help you avoid developing gestational diabetes, but some women do develop the condition, despite living very healthy lifestyles. Try to focus on the risk factors you can control, like nutrition and exercise, rather than the ones you can’t. Every positive health decision you make can be huge for the long-term health of both you and your baby.
- “Gestational diabetes: lower your risk.” Diabetes. American Diabetes Association, Jun 11 2014. Web.
- “Am I at risk for gestational diabetes?” WICWorks. United States Department of Agriculture, Jul 7 2016. Web.
- “Gestational Diabetes.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jul 28 2014. Web.