Type 2 diabetes can affect you at any time in your life, but a woman who develops gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during pregnancy has an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life. GDM is very similar to type 2 diabetes, but is only diagnosed in expectant mothers. What are the causes of GDM, and why does having it make you more prone to getting type 2 diabetes?

Understanding GDM

Between 4% and 10% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, according to the CDC. GDM happens when hormonal changes during pregnancy cause blood glucose levels to rise. In some women, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to lower blood glucose levels for the demands of both the mother and the growing baby. This causes insulin resistance, and means you are unable to process enough glucose to keep your blood sugars at the correct levels. Most women diagnosed with GDM are able to control their blood glucose with dietary intervention.

Risk Factors for GDM

If you fit any of the following criteria, you could be at greater risk for developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy:

  • Older than 25 years
  • Overweight or obese, with a BMI of 25 or higher
  • If you have a family medical history of diabetes
  • Diagnosis with GDM during a former pregnancy or are currently pre-diabetic (Hemoglobin A1c > 5.7%)
  • Are from Hispanic, African American, Asian or American Indian descent
  • Previously delivered a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth

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If you use certain medications such as corticosteroids or have suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) you could also have a higher risk for GDM.

Complications of GDM

Developing gestational diabetes during your pregnancy does not necessarily mean that you will develop type 2 diabetes in the future. It certainly increases your risk for doing so, particularly if it goes untreated. Up to 60% of women with GDM develop diabetes mellitus (DM) within a 10-year period, mainly due to their increased insulin resistance. It also increases your risk of developing GDM with future pregnancies by 40% to 50%. If your GDM remains untreated, it can heighten the risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery—for both mother and baby.

Protecting Yourself

Controlling your risk for GDM and type 2 diabetes later is possible if you take steps early in your family planning process. Dietary and physical activity changes can help to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, and getting screened at the appropriate times will help you to be knowledgeable about your state of health. A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that timely interventions can make a difference in slowing the progression of diabetes in former GDM patients, so follow this plan of action to protect yourself:

Follow a Healthy Diet

Manage your dietary intake by making sure that you:

  • Have a moderate intake of carbohydrates
  • Include fruit, vegetables and whole grains during the day
  • Eat consistent, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day

Maintain Your Weight

  • Participate in regular physical activity, aiming for 30 minutes per day
  • Maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy, and achieve a 5% to 10% reduction in body weight post-pregnancy

Manage Your Health

  • Breast-feed your baby after delivery. ***switch the order: screening first, then BF)
  • Get screened for GDM during your pregnancy. Typically, your doctor will test you between 24 and 28 weeks, and again between 6 and 12 weeks post-partum.

If you show any symptoms of GDM between these milestones, however, you should raise these concerns with your health care provider.

The Registered Dietitians at LifeStyle Medical Center can help guide you in devising a healthy diet and physical activity routine to help manage GDM and prevent Type 2 DM from developing.

It is important to schedule regular appointments with your healthcare team during and after pregnancy to decrease your risk of chronic disease development in the future.