Pregnancy and Diabetes: How Are They Related?

Diet and exercise are fundamental for the control of diabetes in pregnancy. Learn more about pregnancy and diabetes in today's article.
Pregnancy and Diabetes: How Are They Related?

Last update: 03 April, 2023

Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar levels are very high. Today, the Spanish Society of Internal Medicine states that it’s one of the most frequent complications during pregnancy. So, how are pregnancy and diabetes related? The answer isn’t simple. Keep reading to understand the relationship between a physiological condition such as pregnancy and the pathological problem of diabetes.

When a sugar or glucose tolerance disorder of variable degree occurs, evidenced for the first time during pregnancy, then we refer to it as gestational diabetes. This is considered a common complication that’s related to an increase in the woman’s metabolism.

According to the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, between 6 and 7% of pregnancies in the world are complicated by diabetes. Of these, 88-90% are women with gestational diabetes and 10-12% with pre-gestational diabetes. In trying to keep blood sugar at the right levels, more insulin has to be produced. When the amount isn’t enough, then the sugar rises above normal values.

Also, it’s suspected that pregnancy hormones decrease the body’s ability to use and respond to the action of insulin. On the other hand, some specialists consider that gestation is a condition of diabetogenic stress with important repercussions on the fetus.

A doctor checking a pregnant woman's blood sugar.
Most of the time, gestational diabetes disappears when the baby’s born, but there’s a risk of developing insulin-dependent diabetes.

The consequences for the baby

In the case of the child, they could suffer from diabetes and obesity. On the other hand, when it’s pre-gestational, it’s important to detect the pregnancy as early as possible and to test and control your blood glucose levels. It’s common that, if you don’t already suffer from diabetes, before the second trimester, you should be screened to avoid complications.

Read also: Diet to Prevent Gestational Diabetes

What can predispose someone to diabetes during pregnancy?

These are the factors that predispose women to suffer from diabetes during pregnancy:

  • Known diabetes from the preconception period (pre-gestational diabetes), type 1 or type 2.
  • Genetic inheritance of diabetes.
  • Being over 35 years of age.
  • Obese and overweight women. A Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 30 is considered at risk.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Maintaining an inadequate diet.

What are the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes?

If a diabetic pregnant woman doesn’t ensure proper control, she may run the risk of miscarriage or have a baby with congenital defects. In more advanced stages, uncontrolled blood sugar can cause overfed babies weighing more than 9 pounds, cesarean delivery, preeclampsia, stillbirth, and low blood sugar, among others.

That’s why it’s essential to talk to the attending physician to perform tests and diagnose diabetes if some risk factors are met. If the mother is diabetic before pregnancy, she should start with the respective controls immediately.

A pregnant woman holding a plate with three frosted donuts on it.
Diet’s the key behavior for the initial treatment of diabetes, so the advice of a nutritionist is recommended.

How to avoid the consequences?

The control of blood sugar reduces the risk of the mother suffering from diabetes complications or worsening during pregnancy.

  • In case you suffer from diabetes before pregnancy, it’s best to plan and consult with the attending physician about the pre-gestational condition. The specialist will give you the guidelines to control the disease and carry a pregnancy to term.
  • Follow a healthy eating style. For this, you’ll need the support of a nutritionist to help you plan a meal plan according to your disease. A group of specialists suggest that you should verify that weight gain is adequate, promote good eating habits, and avoid episodes of low blood sugar, for which it’s important to have candies, tablets, or glucose gels with you.
  • Promote frequent self-monitoring of capillary glucose.
  • Establish an exercise plan. Exercise is one way to keep sugar under control. Consult your healthcare provider before exercising during pregnancy. Activities such as walking or playing with children can be done for at least 30 minutes.
  • Maintain control of medications and insulin. The doctor’s prescription should be done as directed to achieve blood sugar control.

A good diet and physical exercise: The key

Proper control of diabetes in pregnancy must be maintained, regardless of whether it’s gestational diabetes or if it developed in the pre-gestational stage. The controls are the same and medical and nutritionist guidance is essential. The keys are dietary treatment and exercise. In some cases, the use of medication or insulin injections will be required.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.