Lowering your risk of gestational diabetes

by Julie Snyder

Gestational Diabetes"Glucose tolerance," "blood sugar levels," "horrible sweet stuff!" Listen to any group of pregnant women and you'll hear these terms.

Why is GD screening part of pregnancy care for most women?

During pregnancy, certain hormones made in the placenta help prevent low blood sugar. They work by resisting the action of insulin. Most women produce more insulin -- about three times the normal amount -- to overcome the effect of pregnancy hormones on blood sugar levels. If the pancreas can't produce enough insulin, blood sugar levels rise.

The CDC reports rates of ranging from 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies.

Using the new criteria for diagnoses, an international, multicenter study of gestational diabetes found that 18 percent of expectant moms have gestational diabetes.

What can you do to lower your risk?

✓ Get your body ready before pregnancy
✓ Know your risk factors
✓ Make lifestyle changes now

Lower your risk of gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes risk factors

• You're over 25 years old
• You're overweight
• You have a family history of diabetes
• You're African-American, Latino, Native American
• You've experience an adverse pregnancy outcome
• You had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds

Newer research suggests other risk factors. Moms who were born prematurely, women whose diets are high in animal fat before pregnancy and those eating a high-cholesterol diet were more likely to have GD.

Get ready for a healthy pregnancy

Is there anything you can do before pregnancy? According to the Mayo Foundations, there are no total assurances when it comes to preventing gestation diabetes. Sometimes, even a women who has a healthy weight, works out and no history of diabetes can get GD.

But, you can be proactive and lessen your chances.

Commit to a healthy food plan. Choose healthy foods that are high in fiber and low in fat, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and lean proteins. Eat less refined and pre-packaged products.

Exercise. Start on a fitness program before pregnancy. With your provider's approval keep it up during pregnancy.

Strive for a normal weight. If you're underweight you might need to eat a bit more. If you're overweight, losing a few pounds might lower your risk of GD.

Prevent GD early in pregnancy

Maintain a healthy diet.

• Graze throughout the day. Eat frequent, smaller meals and snacks. About every three hours, have a protein-rich food and a complex carbohydrate. Have a good bedtime snack (with protein) to help stabilize night-time blood sugar.

• Eat more high-protein foods such as milk, eggs, meat and fish, especially during the early pregnancy. A study from University of California, San Francisco suggests it may help your body make more insulin and metabolize carbohydrates more efficiently.

• Be very cautious with highly refined or simple carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, soda, soft drinks, juices, maple syrup/honey, ice cream, candy, pastries and cookies. Instead, pair "good carbs" with protein and healthy fats.

• Increase your fiber intake. Research indicates that foods high in whole grains and fresh produce help keep glucose levels even. Try to include some with each meal or snack.

Watch your weight gain. If you're overweight, should you really be eating for two? Up to 40 percent of us gain more than the recommended amount of weight in pregnancy. While you shouldn't hop onto to the latest fad diet, you can safely maintain your weight, or even lose a few pounds.

Avoid medications that increase insulin resistance.

To exercise or not?

For the general population, exercise helps prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, a form that arises during middle-age or later.

Signe N. Stafne of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim told Reuters Health said that exercise begun in the second half of pregnancy might not have the same effect on gestational diabetes that it does on type 2. "It could be that exercise before pregnancy and in early pregnancy is more important, due to the metabolic changes that occur in early pregnancy."

But even if it doesn't reduce your risk of GD, you do benefit from moderate exercise. It improves your overall health and helps keep your weight gain within the recommended limits.

Are you at a high risk for gestational diabetes? How will you work to reduce lower it?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.