Pregnancy Complications and Diabetes — What You Need to Know

by Justin Fowler-Lindner, a former EMT turned health writer

Pregnancy can be hard, and diabetes doesn’t make things any easier. If you’re pregnant and have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, this article is for you, but this article is also for you if you don’t have diabetes… yet.

That’s because diabetes can also develop for the first time during pregnancy. Worst of all, diabetes may increase the risk of your child developing diabetes. For the health of you and your little one, here’s what you need to know about pregnancy and diabetes:

7 Common Diabetes Pregnancy Complications

Let’s start off with a quick overview of some of the most common diabetes pregnancy complications:

  1. Insulin resistance: In late-stage pregnancy, hormones like estrogen and cortisol can block the effects of insulin and cause insulin resistance.
  2. High blood pressure: Women with type 1 diabetes are already predisposed to high blood pressure (preeclampsia), but pregnancy increases the risk even more.
  3. Worse diabetes complications: As the body struggles to keep blood sugar in a normal range, any health issues with the nervous system, organs and glands can also get worse.
  4. Large birth weight: Women with diabetes are more likely to deliver large babies due to high blood sugar in the womb.
  5. Problems during delivery: Women with diabetes are more likely to need a C-section.
  6. Birth defects: Due to high blood sugar levels, babies are more likely to experience cardiovascular issues, respiratory distress, and problems with the limbs, mouth, gut, brain, spine and kidneys.
  7. Miscarriage: This is every parent’s worst nightmare, but diabetic moms have a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Once again, this is thanks to high blood sugar.

Teens with Diabetes At a Higher Risk for Pregnancy Complications

Diabetes is well known to increase the risk of pregnancy complications. Teen girls are already experiencing a lot of hormone changes, and adding pregnancy into the mix only makes things worse!

A study in the journal Pediatric Diabetes found that pregnant teens were 2.4 times more likely to have high blood pressure, 1.5 times as likely to have a preterm delivery, 1.8 times more likely to have high birth weight, and 1.8 times more likely to need a C-section. All the more reason to practice safe sex and family planning!

Are You At-Risk for Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes (GDM) is diabetes that develops due to pregnancy complications. It affects between 2% to 10% of pregnant women and if left untreated, it can lead to serious health issues. Worst of all, it can increase the risk of your child developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

The exact cause is unknown, but researchers link it to hormonal changes and weight gain. As your pregnancy moves along, it becomes harder and harder for the body to control blood sugar levels. Before you know it, POW!… you’ve got full-blown diabetes!

Some women are at a higher risk of GDM than others. The main risk factors are:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (POS)
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • GDM in a previous pregnancy
  • A previous birth where the baby weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Being older than 25
  • Prediabetes

With that said, some women with GDM have none of these risk factors, so you can never be too sure. Luckily, you may be able to reduce the risk of GDM by watching what you eat…

Mediterranean Diet May Reduce the Risk of Gestational Diabetes

Never heard of the Mediterranean diet before? It means eating fewer processed fats and sugars and eating more foods like:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Fish

According to a recent clinical trial, eating a Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of gestational diabetes. In the study, 1,252 women either followed the Mediterranean diet or followed a typical western diet. In the end, the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of gestational diabetes by roughly 33%. The women also reported less bloating and a better overall quality of life. Yipee, sign me up!

Stay Away from Gluten During Pregnancy

Ready for one more quick nutrition pregnancy hack? Avoid gluten like the plague! As it turns out, eating gluten during pregnancy may increase the risk of your child developing type 1 diabetes.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For a while now, gluten has been on the radar for contributing to gut health issues and autoimmune conditions. Recently, however, researchers started to connect gluten to a child’s type 1 diabetes risk.

In a large study involving over 70,000 women, researchers looked at the diets of women whose children either did or did not develop diabetes later in life. They found that the children of women who ate the most gluten during pregnancy were twice as likely to develop diabetes.

Luckily, there are plenty of gluten-free pastas and bread products on the market now, so you can still satisfy your late-night cravings for a PB&J! But regardless of whether you go gluten-free or Mediterranean, it’s always important to talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your diet during pregnancy.

Hopefully you found this article helpful and remember… diabetes during pregnancy doesn’t have to be scary. With the diet and lifestyle choices, you and your baby should be healthy as can be!

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