Gestational diabetes: What are the long-term implications?

Gestational diabetes: What are the long-term implications?

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Does gestational diabetes affect my health in the long term?

It might. Although most women completely recover from gestational diabetes, the condition still puts you at higher risk of getting it in a future pregnancy and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Gestational diabetes will probably go away shortly after your baby is born. You may have a blood sugar test during the first few days after your baby's birth to check.

Your provider may also test your blood sugar levels six to eight weeks later to make sure you don't have diabetes anymore. If the results are normal and you feel well, you'll have your blood sugar checked every one to three years.

Sometimes gestational diabetes doesn't go away after you've given birth. If this is the case for you, you'll be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This isn't always a result of having gestational diabetes: Research shows that some women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes had type 2 diabetes before they became pregnant but just weren't aware of it.

Women who have had gestational diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing other medical conditions in the future, such as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health problems a person gets that increases the risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abdominal obesity.

Does having gestational diabetes put me at higher risk for diabetes in the future?

Yes, it does. Up to half of all women who have gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes later in life. You're more likely to develop diabetes if:

  • You had high glucose levels requiring treatment with medication.
  • You were overweight before becoming pregnant, with a BMI above 25.
  • You were obese, with a BMI above 30.

The good news is that you can take some simple steps to lower your risk.

What can I do to minimize the risk of developing diabetes in the future?

You can cut your risk of getting diabetes if you:

  • Keep your BMI within a healthy range (less than 25, if possible). You're more likely to develop diabetes if you're overweight. If you're obese (meaning your BMI is 30 or higher), your risk is even greater.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding appears to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the two years after a baby's born. The longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk.
  • See your healthcare provider for regular check-ups.

Eating well when you have a newborn can be a challenge, especially if you're feeling tired or overwhelmed. But do your best to avoid foods and drinks that contain added sugar and raise your blood sugar quickly, such as sodas and pastries.

Sugary foods may give you a quick burst of energy but may leave you feeling drained in the long run. Continuing to eat a healthy, balanced diet – including fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains, and lean proteins – may help control your blood sugar levels and give you more energy to care for your little one.

There's no need to be quite as strict with your diet as you were in pregnancy, but try to plan your meals around the idea of keeping your blood sugar steady. It's important to exercise, too.

Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, at least five times a week. Try jogging, swimming, or even just walking briskly around the park with your baby in a stroller.

What can I do to minimize the risks for my baby?

Unfortunately, babies of women who have gestational diabetes also have a higher risk of developing diabetes later in life. They're also more likely to become overweight or obese in childhood. But there's plenty you can do to lower your baby's risk, such as:

  • Breastfeed your baby. Breast milk can help to balance your newborn's blood sugar. It also offers the perfect blend of nutrients, antibodies, and fats to keep your baby healthy and growing at the right pace. Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing diabetes later in life and are less likely to be overweight or obese as they grow.
  • Keep your baby's weight in the healthy range. Diabetes is more common among children who are overweight or obese. Once your baby is eating solid food, do your best to offer a healthy balanced diet.
  • Keep all well-baby appointments. This lets your provider keep an eye on how she's growing and test her blood sugar if needed.

How does gestational diabetes affect future pregnancies?

Once you've had gestational diabetes, you're more likely to develop it in future pregnancies. Between 30 and 60 percent of women with gestational diabetes will develop it again. Following the advice to minimize the risk of diabetes also reduces the risk of developing gestational diabetes – another incentive to give it your best shot.

When you're expecting again, your doctor may suggest that you monitor your blood sugar regularly throughout your pregnancy to check that it's not getting too high. Your provider may also screen you for gestational diabetes earlier than usual.

If your test is negative, you'll probably have another test for gestational diabetes before the end of the pregnancy, usually when you're about 28 weeks pregnant. If you do develop gestational diabetes again, you'll know early and can begin to manage it as soon as possible.

Visit the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's website for more information and to find an MFM specialist near you.

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