Diabetes Network News | Published October 12, 2012

Planning for a healthy family

Pregnancy accompanied by diabetes can cause many complications for both the mother and baby. Women who have not had diabetes before pregnancy can still develop a type of the disease - gestational diabetes - by having high blood sugar. Up to 18 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes.

Any pregnant woman could develop gestational diabetes, but those with the following risk factors have increased odds:

  • Being older than age 25
  • Having prediabetes
  • Having a relative with diabetes
  • Being a member of a high-risk ethnic group, such as Hispanic, African American, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander
  • Being overweight
  • Having had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Having had a baby weighing nine pounds or more, or having had an unexplained stillbirth during a prior pregnancy

It is important for all pregnant women to talk with their healthcare providers about whether they should be tested for diabetes. Gestational diabetes develops later in pregnancy, so testing for it occurs at 24-28 weeks gestation. If a woman is at high risk for undiagnosed diabetes that was pre-existing before pregnancy, she may be tested for it at her first prenatal visit. Poorly managed type 1 or type 2 diabetes during early pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or birth defects.

Gestational, type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be managed. Most women who properly manage their diabetes during pregnancy have healthy pregnancies and babies. Work with your healthcare team to develop a plan to manage your blood sugar.

Uncontrolled gestational, type 1 or type 2 diabetes can lead to complications for a woman and her baby, including development of a large baby, which can cause problems for both mother and baby during delivery, or necessitate a cesarean section. It can also lead to preterm birth or a baby who develops breathing problems or low blood sugar after being born. In some cases, poorly managed diabetes during pregnancy can result in stillbirth.

Additionally, pregnant women with any type of diabetes are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure, preeclampsia and eclampsia. Preeclampsia and eclampsia are serious complications of pregnancy that cause high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and other signs and symptoms; they can lead to harm to both the mother and baby.

Gestational diabetes typically goes away soon after delivery, though some women continue to have diabetes after giving birth. In these cases, diabetes after childbirth is called type 2 diabetes. Even if the diabetes goes away after childbirth, a woman may still develop diabetes later in life. Approximately 50 percent of women who had gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5-10 years after their baby is born. It is important for women who had gestational diabetes to be tested for type 2 diabetes 6-12 weeks after delivery; even if they test negative, they should be tested for prediabetes and diabetes at least every three years thereafter. Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of being overweight during childhood or adolescence, and a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is especially important for your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can often be prevented through lifestyle modification and, sometimes, medication. Those affected by gestational diabetes should work with their healthcare team and their child's healthcare team to help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. Be sure to tell your child's doctor you had gestational diabetes.

All people should talk with their doctors about how to achieve and maintain optimal health, but it is especially important for women of childbearing age, as 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and the health of the mother has an impact on not only herself, but on her child as well.

To learn more about diabetes prevention and management, contact Mount Nittany Health's diabetes team at 814.231.7095, or visit mountnittany.org.