Every year, approximately 10% of women in the U.S. develop gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that affects pregnant women who didn’t previously have the disease. Over the past two decades, the rate of gestational diabetes has increased by nearly 60%. Gestational diabetes can cause significant complications during pregnancy and can negatively impact the long-term health of your baby. While it’s common for this form of diabetes to disappear soon after their baby is born, about half of women with gestational diabetes after birth go on to develop type 2 diabetes. Fear not, because there are preventative and proactive measures you can take to avoid the longer-term effects of gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes: Brief overview
Gestational diabetes is a condition that occurs during pregnancy when the mother is unable to utilize her insulin properly, which makes it harder to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. While doctors don’t know what causes this disorder, or why some women develop it and others don’t, they do know that gestational diabetes can pose serious complications for both mother and baby if left unchecked
Complications for the mother
Gestational diabetes carries an increased risk of preterm birth or C-section, and the mother’s blood pressure can rise to abnormally high levels. When high blood pressure gets severe, it may result in a condition called preeclampsia, which can result in the mother developing protein in the urine; swollen feet, legs, fingers, and hands; and putting her at an increased risk for seizures or stroke. Mothers with gestational diabetes are also at risk for quickly dropping blood sugar levels right after pregnancy and often take longer to recover after delivery.
Complications for the baby
Risks for the baby include:
- Being very large (9 pounds or more), which can make delivery more difficult or necessitate delivery via C-section, potentially causing gut health issues later in life.
- Premature birth, which can cause breathing and other problems.
- Low blood sugar.
- Development of obesity or type 2 diabetes later in life.
If you’ve never been diagnosed with diabetes and are at average risk, your doctor will typically perform the screening test for gestational diabetes during the second trimester (between 24 and 28 weeks). This test may be done earlier if you have diabetes prior to pregnancy or are considered at increased risk.
A diagnosis of gestational diabetes: What comes next?
If you do receive a positive diagnosis of gestational diabetes, your doctor will no doubt consult with you and develop a plan to best deal with the condition leading up to and during the birth of your baby. Nutrition tips and exercise guidance are likely to be at the cornerstone of this plan, as outlined in our Gestational Diabetes Meal Plan and Overview report. However, since every woman’s pregnancy is different, consult with your doctor before making any lifestyle changes or diet modifications during pregnancy.
How long after birth does gestational diabetes go away?
Gestational diabetes usually goes away soon after delivery, but the timeframe is highly individualized. Your doctor will probably test for diabetes between 4-12 weeks after giving birth and, if your results are normal, test again every 1-3 years.
Even if gestational diabetes after birth does go away, a staggering half of all women who had gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the CDC. Therefore, it’s prudent to take any preventative measures you can, and to do so involves understanding the risk factors that are within your control: maintaining a healthy weight while eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Not smoking and getting regular check-ups at the doctor are vital, as well.
On the weight and nutrition front, continuing with your healthy gestational diabetes meal plan — such as one with lean proteins, high-fiber carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats and minimally processed foods — makes as much sense after you’ve delivered your baby as it did before. And, once your healthcare provider has given you the go-ahead to resume an exercise regimen after you have recovered from delivering your baby, keep it up — as it will help prevent the re-emergence of high blood sugar levels that could signal type 2 diabetes.
What if you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after the birth?
If your blood glucose levels remain high after 12 weeks postpartum, your doctor might diagnose you with type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body either makes too little insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes to use blood sugar for energy. Often, type 2 diabetes can be controlled through eating a proper diet, exercising regularly, and keeping a healthy weight. However, some people with type 2 diabetes also are prescribed medications.
Weight management is key
Nearly 90% of adults with diabetes are overweight or obese with a body mass index (BMI) over 25, according 2020 CDC data. Extra weight adversely affects glucose control because obesity, especially visceral obesity or belly fat, increases insulin resistance. As a result, the pancreas has to go into overdrive to produce even more insulin, a condition called hyperinsulinemia, which can lead to increased hunger and accelerated weight gain.
If you focus on bringing your weight down, even a little bit, the payoff can be huge for your blood sugar and total metabolic health. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), run by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, developed an intervention program that required participants to lose just 7% of their body weight and maintain about 150 minutes of exercise per week over the course of six months. The results were staggering: Researchers saw a 58% reduction in the incidence of diabetes among those who followed the plan. To put it in real terms, someone who starts at a weight of 200 pounds could lose just 14 pounds and exercise a little more than 20 minutes a day to cut their risk by more than half. No drugs, no extreme dieting or exercise — just life-changing health benefits.
To meet your weight management goals, get some helpful tips in these articles:
A CGM can benefit you
If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), like we have developed here at January AI, can be a critical component to your ongoing management of the condition. It makes managing diabetes simpler, with much less guesswork (and no finger sticks!) involved. You’ll be able to see in almost real time how your body responds to what you eat. Did that bowl of oatmeal this morning cause your numbers to go way up? Did a tuna salad at lunch keep things relatively stable? If your levels get too low at night, does an apple with peanut butter before bed do the trick? Your CGM can answer all these questions for you. It’s all in the data: You’ll be able to watch your glucose levels and make adjustments to your diet over time. The end result could be a meal plan that’s truly customized to your biology and helps you achieve control over your diabetes.
Plus, with a CGM like January AI, the accompanying app or monitor can alert you if you’re entering into a danger zone, so you’re able to react immediately. Get all your questions answered about CGMs here. And learn more about January AI’s CGM here.
If you are at risk for or diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s important to be proactive in managing your metabolic health because this condition puts both the mother and baby at risk. Gestational diabetes can cause a potentially dangerous delivery for the mother and long-term health consequences for the baby — both in infancy and later in life. While gestational diabetes after birth typically goes away a few weeks, the condition often leads to the mother developing type 2 diabetes. What we do know is that managing your blood sugar levels — through diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and monitoring your blood sugar (both during and after pregnancy) — can significantly benefit both the mother and baby.