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Check Your Knowledge: Diabetes and Pregnancy

Pregnant woman sitting on floorNovember is Diabetes Awareness Month. How much do you know about diabetes during pregnancy? Check your knowledge below!

Diabetes can affect women during their childbearing years. Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should.

Having diabetes during pregnancy can impact the health of both the mother and her unborn baby. If a woman has poor control of her diabetes during pregnancy, which means that her blood sugar levels are often above normal, this increases the chances for problems for her baby, such as a baby growing too large, which may lead to complications during delivery. It also can cause serious complications for the woman. Working to keep blood sugar in control (in the normal range) before and during pregnancy can help prevent these problems.

What are the 3 common types of diabetes?

  • Type 1: The pancreas makes little or no insulin (a hormone in the body to help get glucose (sugar) into the cells of the body) so the body can't use blood sugar for energy.
  • Type 2: The body either makes too little insulin or the insulin that is made is unable to help cells use blood sugar for energy.
  • Gestational: This is a type of diabetes that is first seen or diagnosed in a pregnant woman. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is similar to type 2 but it is first seen or diagnosed when a woman is pregnant.
Woman checking blood sugar levels

Women with diabetes should monitor blood sugar often to help prevent problems during pregnancy.

What are possible problems for the baby from blood sugar that is not well controlled in a pregnant woman with type 1 or type 2 diabetes?

  • Birth defects
  • Stillbirth or miscarriage
  • Very high or very low birth weight
  • Injury during birth if the baby is very large
  • Low blood sugar after birth
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice) during the first 28 days of life
  • Potential metabolic disorders (problems converting food into energy; i.e., diabetes) later in life

What are possible problems for a woman with type 1 or type 2 diabetes that is not well controlled during pregnancy?

  • Worsening of any existing eye, kidney, heart, or nerve problems caused by diabetes
  • Labor may start too early (preterm birth)
  • Bladder and other infections
  • Gum disease
  • Injury from delivering a big baby
  • C-section delivery
  • High blood pressure
  • Preeclampsia (a late pregnancy condition involving high blood pressure, weight gain, protein in urine, headaches, and vision problems)

What are things a woman with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can do to help prevent problems during pregnancy?

A woman can work to keep her blood sugar in control before and during pregnancy. Other tips:

  • Plan your pregnancy, if possible
  • Work to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight before pregnancy
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Be physically active 150 minutes per week (10 minutes at a time is fine, such as a brisk walk)
  • Talk with your doctor about whether your current medications will be appropriate if you become pregnant
  • Monitor your blood sugar often
  • Control and treat low blood sugar right away (e.g., eating a glucose tablet or candy or drinking juice or regular soda)
  • Limit excess weight gain during pregnancy
  • Follow up with your doctor regularly

What causes a woman to get gestational diabetes?

We don't know all the causes of gestational diabetes. Many—but not all—women with gestational diabetes are overweight or obese before getting pregnant. Other potential causes of gestational diabetes include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Having twins
  • Nonwhite race
  • Having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Older age (more than 25 years old)

What are some problems that gestational diabetes can cause for a pregnant woman or her baby?

Blood sugar that is not well controlled in a woman with gestational diabetes can lead to problems in the baby, such as:

  • Injury during birth if the baby is very large
  • Low blood sugar after birth
  • Increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life
  • Stillbirth

The woman can also have problems:

  • A very large baby that is difficult to deliver
  • C-section delivery
  • Preterm birth
  • Increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life

What are things a woman with gestational diabetes can do to control her blood sugar and lower her chance of problems during pregnancy?

  • Eating healthy food
  • Being physically active 150 minutes per week
  • Checking blood sugar often
  • Limiting excess weight gain during pregnancy
  • Taking insulin, if needed

Women with Diabetes can Have a Healthy Baby

It is important for women with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes to keep their blood sugar in control. Keeping blood sugar in control before and during pregnancy increases the chance of having a healthy baby and reduces the chance for other problems.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

If you are a pregnant woman with diabetes, you still can have a healthy baby. You need to take extra care before and during your pregnancy.

Ask your doctor:

  • Whether it is safe for you to become pregnant
  • What you need to do before you get pregnant
  • How to prevent pregnancy while you are getting your blood sugar under control
  • How to keep your blood sugar under tight control both before and during your pregnancy

If you find that you are pregnant before your diabetes is under control, start now to work to control your blood sugar. Talk with your doctor to learn how.

Gestational Diabetes 

Work with your doctor to make a plan to keep your blood sugar in control. Following this plan can help you have a healthy pregnancy and baby. It also can help you and your baby stay healthy after birth.

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