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Pre-Pregnancy: Learning About Diabetes

separator Even before you become pregnant, it's a good idea to find out whether you're at higher risk for gestational diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, and to take steps to avoid these conditions if you can.

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. The condition almost always disappears as soon as the pregnancy is over. Type 2 diabetes (or adult onset diabetes), the most common form of the condition, can develop at any time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Type 2 diabetes has been on the rise in the US in the last decade. It's occurring in people in their teens, 20s and 30s more than ever before, and researchers believe that obesity and inactive lifestyles are the main causes for the increase. It can be common for people to have diabetes and not know it.

It's possible to control both forms of diabetes through diet and exercise. Sometimes medication, including insulin injections, is also necessary. But if you're pregnant, you have enough on your mind even if you don't have complications. Doing what you can to decrease your risk of diabetes during pregnancy makes a lot of sense.

What is Diabetes?
During digestion, most food is converted to a sugar called glucose. Then the hormone insulin helps your cells convert glucose to the energy that your cells need. When diabetes develops, your body has trouble producing insulin or using it effectively. During pregnancy, your body produces extra hormones, and this can make it difficult for the insulin in your body to work the way it should, causing gestational diabetes.

Symptoms of Diabetes May be Hidden During Pregnancy
Normally, the most common symptoms of diabetes include

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness

When you're pregnant, these symptoms may not occur. That's why it's important to have your blood tested for diabetes during pregnancy.

How Diabetes Affects the Baby
If gestational diabetes (or any other form of diabetes) remains untreated, the baby could have the following problems:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Higher birth weight
  • Low glucose at birth
  • Jaundice

Risk Factors for Gestational and Type 2 Diabetes
The following factors may cause increased risk for developing gestational diabetes:

  • History of gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Having given birth to a very large baby (more than nine pounds)
  • Abnormal glucose levels in the past
  • History of stillbirth
  • Carrying twins or triplets

Additionally, some researchers believe that being overweight or obese and having an inactive lifestyle are additional risk factors for gestational diabetes, but there needs to be more research to prove this.

Risk factors for Type 2 include:

  • Obesity
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Age over 45
  • Having a close relative with Type 2 diabetes
  • Having a baby that weighed more than nine pounds at birth
  • Being African-American, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian

How Can You Lower Your Risk?
If you look at the risk factors listed above, you'll see two that you can do something about-obesity and inactive lifestyle. Take a good long look at your diet. Do you eat the right amount and kinds of fat? Do you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains? Are your portions the right size? A nutritionist can help you size up your diet and make any needed changes.

Do you try to get some exercise each day? Remember, you don't have to exercise all at once to get the benefit. Ten minutes at a time here and there is good for you too.

Diabetes Care December 1998; National Institute of Child and Human Development; K Reynolds, C Lees, G McCartan, Pregnancy and Birth: Your Questions Answered. DK Publishing, 1997.
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