Gestational diabetes is diabetes that is found for the first time when a woman is pregnant. If you had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, you and your child from that pregnancy have a lifelong risk for developing diabetes, a serious disease that can lead to health problems such as heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, and amputations. The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent or delay diabetes and lower that risk for yourself and your child.
"Women with a history of gestational diabetes can lower their chances for developing diabetes by taking steps to reach and maintain a healthy weight, making healthy food choices, and being active," according to Judith Fradkin, M.D., of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Keeping a healthy lifestyle as a family is good for everyone."
Keep Up Healthy Habits
Many women who have gestational diabetes see a dietitian or a diabetes educator to guide them in developing healthy habits during pregnancy. But what many women don't realize is that it's just as important to keep up with those healthy habits even after the baby is born.
If you are a woman who had gestational diabetes, it is important to get tested for diabetes 6 to 12 weeks after your baby is born, and at least every three years after that.
It is also important to reach and maintain a healthy weight by making healthy food choices, such as following an eating plan lower in fat and calories and high in fiber, and being active for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Even if women do not reach their "goal" weight, research shows that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce risk.
Busy? Build physical activity into your day one step at a time. Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and preventing type 2 diabetes. Set a goal to be active at least 30 minutes, 5 days per week. If you have not been active, start slowly, building up to your goal. Take small steps to include physical activity in your day-to-day routine.
Busy moms can use these tips to get started:
- Park your car farther away from the store, movie theater, your office, etc.
- Get your friends and family involved. Set a regular walking date, such as after dinner. Or do something that all ages can enjoy: shoot hoops, take a bike ride, or dance around the house.
- Take a walk during your lunch break or push the baby's stroller around the mall.
- Don't just watch the kids at the playground—play with them.
- Deliver a message to a co-worker in person instead of by email, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Use commercial breaks to stretch, take a quick walk around your home, do sit-ups, or march in place instead of plopping yourself on the couch in front of the TV.
For more information, visit the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP).
Get Tested for Diabetes!
Women who develop gestational diabetes have high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels during pregnancy. Immediately after pregnancy, 5 to 10 percent of women with gestational diabetes are found to have diabetes, usually type 2. All women with gestational diabetes should be tested for diabetes 6 to 12 weeks after their baby is born. In many cases, their blood glucose levels show they are no longer considered to have diabetes at this time.
But what many people don't realize is that having gestational diabetes increases a woman's future chances of developing diabetes by 35 to 60 percent. Any woman who had gestational diabetes should get tested for diabetes and pre-diabetes at least every three years. This follow up testing is very important and usually consists of a simple blood test.
Women with a history of gestational diabetes should also talk to their health care provider about earlier screening for gestational diabetes in future pregnancies. Children born from a mother who had gestational diabetes are at increased risk for obesity and diabetes, so it's a good idea for mothers to let their child's doctor know that they had gestational diabetes and take steps to promote healthy habits for their child.
Holly Romans was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with her first child. After the baby was born, a blood test showed Holly's blood glucose was back to normal, so she didn't think any more about it. But later a follow-up test showed she was at risk for developing diabetes.
She shared her history of gestational diabetes with her daughter's doctor and a note was made in her daughter's health record. Holly also made sure a note was made in her own health record as well.
Holly joined a diabetes prevention program at a local hospital and learned how to have a healthy lifestyle for herself and her family. She lost weight by making small changes in her daily routine, such as replacing her chocolate snack-cake stash with fresh fruit, preparing more salads, eating smaller portions, and taking daily walks.
In just a few months, Holly's glucose numbers had returned to a normal level. And thanks to her lifestyle changes, she did not develop gestational diabetes when she became pregnant with her second child.
Today, Holly knows she needs to continue her healthy lifestyle habits and get tested for diabetes at least every three years. Holly continues to work to keep her weight down by doing aerobics and walking with her two kids. She makes sure she and her family maintain a healthy lifestyle by staying physically active and making healthy food choices.
- Had gestational diabetes
- Exercises daily
- Satisfies her cravings in a healthy way by adding a tablespoon of peanut butter to a smoothie
- Practices portion control by occasionally eating one 100-calorie cookie pack
- Enjoys walking with her kids at the park, on the boardwalk, and at the beach
- Favorite healthy snacks: raw veggies and salads