How to Cut Risk of High Blood Sugar When You’re Pregnant
There are steps you can take when you’re pregnant to help control blood sugar levels and ensure a healthy pregnancy. Find out more about how to avoid gestational diabetes.
When you’re pregnant, you may wonder why your obstetrician asks for a urine sample at prenatal checkups. One thing your doctor watches is glucose. It may be normal for some to show up, but if it shows up repeatedly or in large amounts, it can be a sign that you have gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy).
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Most women get screened for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks into their pregnancy. If there is a lot of glucose in your urine in early prenatal visits, however, you’ll probably do the screening sooner.
“For people who have risk factors for gestational diabetes, we usually recommend that they get screening early in pregnancy — usually in the first trimester,” says maternal-fetal medicine specialist Jeff Chapa, MD.
Your doctor likely will talk to you about several risk factors during your early checkups. Dr. Chapa says you are more likely to get gestational diabetes if:
Your doctor will ask you to take a test called the oral glucose tolerance test. Here’s what happens:
“When you’re screened early, if that screening is normal, you should get screened again around 24 to 28 weeks when insulin resistance from the placental hormones is at its peak,” he says.
The placenta is the organ that connects you to your baby to nourish it as it grows. Some hormones that the placenta makes work against the action of the insulin your body makes. As the placenta grows, so does this “insulin resistance.” In some people, this change is enough to cause the blood sugar level to be increased as it is in people with diabetes.
There are no guarantees — and about half of women who get gestational diabetes don’t have any risk factors. But it’s always a good idea to adopt healthy habits.
If you do get gestational diabetes, your doctor will monitor it throughout your pregnancy because it can cause problems for both you and your baby.
Since your body’s insulin supply cannot keep up, extra glucose stays in your blood and the baby receives more sugar than it needs — and stores it as fat. Possible outcomes include a large baby, more chance of a cesarean delivery, and a slightly higher risk of fetal and neonatal death.
Babies born to mothers with diabetes need their blood sugar levels monitored after birth. Low blood sugars can result in newborn babies from mothers with any type of diabetes, and this can lead to problems for your baby, including seizures, Dr. Chapa says.
However, you can still have a healthy baby if you focus on good habits. To ensure stable blood sugar levels:
For most women, blood sugar levels return to normal after delivery, but your doctor will likely check them during the postpartum period. About 10% of women with gestational diabetes have type 2 diabetes without knowing it.
If a woman has gestational diabetes, she also has a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. About half of women with gestational diabetes will have type 2 diabetes in 10 years, so it is important for your primary care physician to closely monitor your blood sugars.
Gestational diabetes provides a warning for many women that they may on the way to developing type 2 diabetes, and it gives them a chance to make changes in their diet, weight (if they need to lose), and exercise to help prevent them from getting this disease.