The article has been authored by Dr Poornima Ramakrishna, MBBS, MS (Mumbai), Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology – Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital, Koramangala & Jayanagar
Gestational diabetes mellitus is a condition that as many as 9% of pregnant women develop. It increases the risk of issues during pregnancy and delivery.
During your pregnancy, your cells have a bit more insulin resistance. This results in an increase in the amount of sugar or glucose in your blood. This additional glucose helps in making more nutrients for your baby.
However, if your cells get too insulin resistant, it can result in your blood sugar level becoming too high. This can be problematic for you as well as your growing baby. Some factors make you more likely to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, so it is not always possible to prevent it. However, a pregnant woman can take certain steps to reduce the risk of developing the condition.
Gestational diabetes may harm both the fetus and woman. The possible effects are:
- Increased blood pressure
- Risk of preeclampsia
- A higher risk of the woman having type 2 diabetes in future
- Premature birth
- Higher birthweight
- Low levels of blood sugar for the baby at birth
What Can You Do To Reduce The Risk Of Gestational Diabetes
While gestational diabetes isn’t always avoidable, women can take a few steps to reduce their risk of developing the condition.
1. Having a healthy weight when trying for pregnancy
If you want to have a healthy pregnancy, you should look to exercise regularly. If you are looking to conceive, you should try to make lifestyle choices that can help you reach a healthy weight and maintain it before you get pregnant.
Studies have shown that one of the most significant risk factors for gestational diabetes is being overweight. Research has confirmed that a woman whose BMI is higher than 25 is more likely to develop gestational diabetes when she gets pregnant.
However, this risk can be reduced by making the necessary dietary changes. If you are looking to lose weight, you should modify your diet by taking steps like:
- Eating smaller portions of food
- Avoiding junk food and packaged food
- Preventing candy and preferring fruit
- Consuming more lean protein, like tofu and fish, which helps in staying fuller for longer.
- Eating plenty of whole grains and vegetables to increase fibre intake
- Avoiding sodas, juices, and coffee drinks with high dairy content and replacing them with black coffee, herbal tea, or sparkling water with lime or lemon slices.
Exercise is an important aspect of healthy weight maintenance. Exercising can help prevent gestational diabetes, both during and before pregnancy. When you exercise, your body becomes more sensitive to the insulin created by your pancreas, which helps in regulating blood sugar levels.
You should try to become more active even before you get pregnant. It might simply mean making certain long-term lifestyle choices. If you have more of a sedentary lifestyle, you can take measures like:
- Cycle or walk to work
- Park your car some distance away from your destination and walk the rest of the way
- Take the stairs instead of elevators
- Perform leisure activities like gardening, hiking, or playing outdoors with children.
- Try out yoga. It would be a good idea to join a class particularly meant for beginners or pregnant woman
- Performing low impact exercises like swimming
- Join a running club to maintain your motivation.
If you want to avoid gestational diabetes, it is recommended to do around 30 minutes of exercising with moderate intensity for 4-5 days every week. Maintain an intensity that causes you to break a sweat. Good options for cardio exercises include walking, stationary biking, using elliptical machines, and swimming.
For pregnant women, it is important to discuss with a doctor about their exercise regimen and get to know about the exercises that are safe for each stage of their pregnancy.
3. Eating right when you are pregnant
Having a nutritious diet when you are pregnant can be particularly challenging because of food aversions, morning sickness, and cravings. However, if you eat well, it ensures that you only gain healthy weight for each trimester and avoid gestational diabetes. Eating non-starchy vegetables and whole grains can help in reducing the risk of developing the condition.
Following are the healthy food choices:
- Lean proteins like beans, tofu, white poultry, and tofu
- Healthy fats from coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and other plant-based sources of fat
- Low-fat dairy products
- Whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, bread, and pasta.
- Non-starchy vegetables
Following food items should be avoided
- Processed foods
- Added or extra sugar
- Sugary beverages such as energy drinks, sodas, juices, and store-bought coffee.
Throughout your pregnancy, make sure you visit your gynaecologist regularly for routine care. The doctor will ask about any symptoms and even do an ultrasound and pelvic examination. If they do notice any early indications of gestational diabetes, they will give suggestions to help you prevent it.