Gestational Diabetes Prevention – 5 Facts

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA


3 Minutes

No matter how far away your plans are, there's always a lot to think about when it comes to pregnancy. For some women, particularly those with a risk of diabetes in their family, taking steps to prevent gestational diabetes can be high on the list.  

So, what is fact and what is fiction? You only have to ask Dr Google, and you will find a mixed bag of ideas, mostly based on opinion. To save you time, here are four facts about gestational diabetes that every woman should know when considering pregnancy.  

 

What is gestational diabetes?  

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the hormones produced by the placenta block the action of a women's insulin in regulating blood sugar levels. Irregular blood sugar levels can lead to some complications including early labour, bigger babies and high blood pressure for mums - among others.  

Gestational diabetes usually goes away when the baby is born; however, research shows that women who have had gestational diabetes are 50% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Further, if you have Gestational diabetes in your first pregnancy, you have a 30-69% chance of it recurring in future pregnancies.

The good news is that in most cases, gestational diabetes can be managed to ensure a healthy mum and bub. 

 

Fact 1 – Healthy pre-conception weight can help prevent gestational diabetes 

Being within the healthy weight range before falling pregnant and aiming for a healthy weight gain during your pregnancy reduces your risk of health problems, including, high blood pressure, increased risk of complications, and a caesarean section. Studies show that even for women in the healthy weight range, a weight gain of more than 2.5% of their body weight before pregnancy, was associated with 2.7-times increased risk of developing gestational diabetes compared with a healthy weight or women who did not gain any weight.

 

Fact 2 – Regular exercise pre-conception can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes

Participating in a moderate level of physical activity regularly before becoming pregnant can lower the risk of gestational diabetes by helping the body become more sensitive to insulin created in the body to regulate blood sugar levels.  

Try participating in a dance class like Zumba once a week. Swap a Netflix marathon for a bike ride with your partner on the weekends or head to the local swimming pool for a morning swim to start your day.  

 

Fact 3 – Eating well before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of gestational diabetes

Studies show that women with a healthy, balanced diet in the three years before pregnancy are less likely to get gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy.  

A balanced diet includes a high intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fish, and low consumption of red and processed meat. 

 

Fact 4 – Age, genetics and ethnic background plays a role 

Unfortunately, preventing gestational diabetes is not always in our control. Risk factors we can't change, include:

1.   Your Age – Advanced maternal age has become a growing trend in recent years for women of the western world. For the majority of expectant mothers aged over 40, there are little to no complications in pregnancy and childbirth; however, research has shown women over the age of 40 are at a higher risk of gestational diabetes than younger expectant mothers. 

2.  Your Ethnic Background - Being from an Asian, Indian subcontinent, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, Maori, Middle Eastern or non-white African background 

3.  Your DNA - A family history of type 2 diabetes or a first-degree relative (mother or sister) who has had gestational diabetes will put you at a higher risk. 

 

Summary  

  • Being within the healthy weight range before falling pregnant and aiming for a healthy weight gain during your pregnancy reduces your risk of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. 

  • Participating in a moderate level of physical activity regularly before becoming pregnant can lower the risk of gestational diabetes. 

  • Women with a healthy, balanced diet in the three years before pregnancy and during pregnancy are less likely to get gestational diabetes. 

  • While we can't control our age, genetics or cultural background, we can make a significant difference to the lifestyle we lead, including what we eat, how active we are and our body weight.  

The return on investment is huge, including reducing the risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy and preventing lifestyle diseases in the future, such as type 2 diabetes.  

 

For eating plans, recipes, workouts tips, hacks, events to help prevent gestational diabetes join the Capital Chicks CANberra online community today.  

 

References

  • O’Sullivan J. Diabetes Mellitus after GDM.  Diabetes 1991; 29 (Suppl.2): 131‐35 
  •  Stephanie MacNeill et al. Rates and Risk Factors for Recurrence of Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2001 Apr; 24(4): 659-662. 
  • Moses RG. The recurrence rate of gestational diabetes mellitus in subsequent  pregnancies. Diabetes Care 1996; 19: 1348‐1350.
  • N Poolsup et al. Effect of Treatment of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2014; 9(3): e92485.
  • Adane, A, Tooth, L and Mishra G. Pre-pregnancy weight change and incidence of gestational diabetes mellitus: A finding from a prospective cohort study. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. VOLUME 124, P72-80, FEBRUARY 01, 2017.
  • Ming et al. 2018 The effect of exercise during pregnancy on gestational diabetes mellitus in normal-weight women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  (2018) 18:440.
  • Mijatovic-Vukas. J et al. Associations of Diet and Physical Activity with Risk for Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 2018, 10(6), 698.
  • Cuilin Zhang et al. Adherence to healthy lifestyle and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2014; 349.
  • Nankervis A, McIntyre HD, Moses R, Ross GP, Callaway L, Porter C, Jeffries W,  Boorman C, De Vries B, McElduff. ADIPS Consensus Guidelines for the Testing and  Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Australia . Australasian Diabetes in Pregnancy  Society

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