Diabetes and pregnancy are occurring together more frequently as the prevalence of diabetes increases. There are two types of diabetes and pregnancy that can take place. In one case, the mother already has diabetes, either Type 1 (insulin dependent diabetes) or Type 2 (non-insulin dependent diabetes), before she becomes pregnant. In the other instance, the woman develops diabetes during her pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes. In both instances, the pregnancies can be brought to term with healthy babies though much care and diligence is required. The most important thing for a diabetic pregnancy to result in a healthy baby is to monitor blood glucose levels in the mother.
Glucose is energy that is used by all of the body’s cells and tissues. When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks it down into glucose or what we commonly call sugar. When glucose is in the blood, a hormone called insulin helps to deliver the glucose to all of the different parts of the body. Diabetes is a condition where insulin is either not made properly by the body or the receptors that use the insulin do not function. When this process is not working, glucose levels in the blood become too high. Some people with diabetes can control their blood sugar with proper diet and exercise while others need to give themselves insulin injections to keep levels at recommended amounts. The American Diabetes Association recommends blood glucose levels for pregnant women to be at 80 to 110 mg/Dl before meals though a health care provider could recommend other amounts depending on the patient. If levels become too high, there can be health implications for both mother and fetus.
Glucose in the blood of the mother also passes to the fetus. Babies born to mothers who have diabetes can be born at higher-than-normal weights. This is called macrosomia. In this instance, a c-section may be required to deliver the larger babies. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can occur if too much insulin is given to counteract the blood glucose. Jaundice, respiratory distress or low mineral levels in the baby are other potential risks from diabetes and pregnancy.
It is recommended that women who have diabetes and want to become pregnant should take extra precautions before conceiving as any diabetic pregnancy is automatically considered high-risk. This means that the pregnancy will have to be monitored extra closely to check for potential issues or problems. While having a pregnancy termed “high-risk” might cause some anxiety, with proper medical care most high-risk pregnancies can still result in healthy babies. For existing diabetes and pregnancy, some of the precautions the mother must take include checking blood glucose levels, maintaining a healthy and steady diet, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and attending and follow-up with all medical appointments. It is important to set specific treatment goals with a health care provider who can help to monitor the pregnancy.
For women with gestational diabetes and pregnancy, the treatment is very similar. A device called a glucose monitor will be used to check blood sugar levels several times a day with a small prick of the finger. Vigilant monitoring and tracking of diet, exercise, blood sugar levels, illnesses, and any changes in normal routine will help health care providers suggest any changes if necessary. For some women with gestational diabetes, insulin injections may be required though most can usually manage with careful diet and exercise. Keep in mind that with gestational diabetes, the mother’s blood sugar level tends to return to normal after the child is born though there is always an increased risk of developing diabetes at a later time. This is true for both mother and baby as children born to mothers with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of obesity, glucose intolerance and diabetes themselves. Continuing the habits of healthy eating and exercise that are developed during gestational diabetes and pregnancy can help both mother and baby live long, healthy lives.