Gestational Diabetes or GDM (gestational diabetes mellitus) as it is sometimes referred to, is a condition that can develop during pregnancy. It can occur in women who do not have any past history of diabetes and poses a risk to mother and child. However, in most cases, it is known to vanish after pregnancy and isn’t as threatening as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes prevention is possible through a well-managed diet and timely medical help as and when needed.
How can you Avoid Gestational Diabetes?
Before you understand how to avoid gestational diabetes during pregnancy, it is important to know what this condition is. Your body will produce hormones during pregnancy which helps to add fat layers that are rich in nutrients. Due to these changes, the body uses insulin in a less effective manner leading to an insulin-resistant condition. Simply put, gestational diabetes impacts the manner in which produces and uses insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Fortunately, Gestational diabetes can be prevented by taking a few steps as mentioned below:
1. Reduce Your Risk Through Diet
Your doctor or a nutritionist can provide a list of foods that can help you to keep your blood glucose in the required range. You can also speak to them about the frequency of meals, meal timing and meal sizes.
- In order to maintain blood sugar at a steady level, you should include more fibre-rich foods as an integral part of the diet to avoid gestational diabetes. High-fibre foods like green leafy vegetables, fruits like prunes, bran and whole grains should be definite included
- Increasing protein intake through sources like chicken, spinach and broccoli will help. Various birth defects can be prevented by including protein and Vitamin B in your daily diet.
- Your body will release insulin as its response to high levels of blood sugar so try to keep minimum time gap between meals and avoid taking a single large meal. This will help to prevent a spike in blood sugar and maintain steady levels throughout the day.
- It is also recommended to avoid or at least reduce the intake of white foods like sugar, flour, starchy items like potatoes and pasta. They can enhance blood sugar levels so it makes sense to eat them in small quantities.
- Reduce the consumption of deep-fried, sugary and fatty foods. Milk products should also be included in your diet as and when needed only.
2. Reduce Your Risk Through Regular Screenings
- Make sure you do not miss any of your doctor appointments and carry out screenings at the scheduled time. A GDM test between 24 to 28 weeks is recommended for mothers-to-be at average risk while at high risk, a test during your first visit may be carried out.
- Speak to your doctor about any doubts about gestational diabetes due to your family history or any other risk factors. Check if you should exercise or follow a specific diet to keep GDM at bay.
- If your doctor says so, keep monitoring your blood sugar levels regularly and follow a regular testing schedule as suggested by the doctor.
- Your doctor could carry out a glucose tolerance test after an initial glucose test as a follow-up. Be prepared for an “overnight fasting test” to get your blood sugar levels tested.
- Inform your doctor about any current medications or supplements you are taking so they can be stopped or altered if necessary.
3. Understand Your Risk Factors
The determination of risk factors is the first step towards the prevention of gestational diabetes. Get details of family history to have an accurate forecast if GDM can affect you. Speak to family members and close relatives and get information about their diabetic history. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder while Type 2 diabetes is connected to eating habits and lifestyle.
If a close family member like your parents or sibling has Type 2 diabetes, there is an increased possibility of developing gestational diabetes. Find out if this is true in your case and inform the doctor accordingly, who can then suggest necessary preventive methods. Inform the doctor if you have undergone blood sugar tests like glycosuria (sugar in the urine). Various other risk factors include:
- Being overweight prior to pregnancy
- Being 25 years of age or above
- If you had developed GDM during a previous pregnancy
- If you had a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome
- If a previous baby was 9 pounds or more at birth or a stillborn
4. Reduce Body Weight Through Physical Activity
Speak to your doctor if you are overweight during pregnancy, so he can suggest exercises that can be done during this time. If you have planned your pregnancy during the next six months or a year, you can reduce your weight through the following methods:
- Exercise daily for thirty minutes or more
- Use the staircase instead of the lift. 10 minutes of climbing stairs are equivalent to 30 minutes of walking.
- Reduce television time, mobile time and PlayStation time and get off that couch every 15 minutes.
- If possible indulge in activities like swimming, skipping and running
- Park your car at the furthest point so it will force you to walk that much distance while you run your daily errands.
- Remember, just four hours of physical activity can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by almost 70%.
Stick to safe exercises that are low impact ones like swimming and walking, if you are exercising during pregnancy. Avoid any kind of contact sports as this could lead to injuries. You should monitor your heart rate while exercising to ensure it does not exceed the recommended rate as per your BMI. Several short bursts of exercise will also benefit you in the same manner as 30 minutes of continuous activity. Ultimately, it is your doctor who will decide how often you should exercise after considering your overall health.
5. Reduce Stress Levels
Keeping stress levels to a minimum can help in the prevention of gestational diabetes. If your mood is light and happy, you will be less stressed which is a healthy sign for you and your baby. Try the following things for reducing stress levels:
- Practice deep breathing exercises like pranayama, anulom vilom etc. as they are wonderful tools for reducing anxiety levels.
- Activities like yoga and meditation will provide immediate and long-term relief for stress-related issues and should be pursued under professional supervision.
- Listening to music is a proven method of keep stress levels to a minimum. Put on your favourite music during work hours or when you are resting to get maximum benefits.
6. Creating a Pregnancy Plan
Taking a few simple but critical precautionary steps before getting pregnant is an effective way of preventing GDM. It is best to create a pregnancy plan in consultation with your doctor. It is an assured way of preparing yourself physically, emotionally and mentally for the journey called pregnancy.
- During this time, plan to lose excess weight if any, as weight loss is not recommended during pregnancy. If you are concerned about GDM and its implications for the pregnancy, then lose weight before you become pregnant.
- Ensure your sugar levels are normal at least three months before you plan to become pregnant. This will give you enough time to fall to normal levels before you conceive the baby.
- You should stop eating sugar-laden foods and sweets like doughnuts, gulab jamuns, etc.
Since gestational diabetes can sometimes affect the mother after the baby is born, it is important to understand various risks associated with it. This can prove to be helpful in preventing gestational diabetes as the risks are known before planning the baby.
Post-delivery plan: Similar risk factors that put you at the risk of acquiring gestational diabetes, make you prone to developing Type 2 diabetes in the future too. The chances of developing Type 2 diabetes is higher if you have gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Therefore it is necessary to follow all the above-mentioned tips related to diet and exercise post pregnancy too. If you get back to a manageable weight after delivery, the risk of diabetes is reduced too. By losing weight, you can be in better shape and are better equipped for active motherhood.
The combined use of the tips given above can prove to be effective for prevention of gestational diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes during pregnancy, your baby is at a higher risk of gaining additional weight while growing up or developing Type 2 diabetes as he grows into an adult. This risk can be negated by breastfeeding the baby, encouraging him to undertake regular physical activity and inculcating healthy eating habits from a young age.