More than 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Rio Grande Valley is no stranger to this epidemic, with 28% of the local population aged 18 and up dealing with the disease, as well as another 30% showing pre-diabetic symptoms.
Protecting yourself against pre-existing diabetes and gestational diabetes is especially important for expecting mothers. Failing to properly take care of yourself during pregnancy can increase the chance of birth defects and other serious complications.
At Project DOC, we want to make sure that you and your child stay healthy throughout the entire pregnancy. Please read on to learn more about how pre-existing diabetes and gestational diabetes can affect your pregnancy, as well as tips on what you can do to protect yourself.
What You Need to Know About Diabetes
Diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body cannot use the sugars and starches from the foods you eat. Individuals who have diabetes make little to no insulin, and as a result, these sugars do not reach the cells but instead begin to build up in the blood.
Over time, too much glucose (sugar) in your blood can cause serious health problems.
The most common types of diabetes include:
- Type 1 Diabetes: Individuals who have type 1 diabetes do not make any insulin. This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults but can appear at any age. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes and can occur at any age. Individuals who have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, are physically inactive, and have certain health problems have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes. This is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90-95 percent of all cases in the United States.
- Gestational Diabetes: According to the CDC, an estimated 2 to 10 percent of women develop gestational diabetes. While it generally goes away after the baby is born, it is absolutely vital that you take care of yourself during the pregnancy. It is worth noting that even if gestational diabetes goes away after birth, half of all women who had it develop type 2 diabetes later.
If you have pre-existing diabetes and are planning on getting pregnant, visit your doctor at least 6 months before trying, if possible.
If you are diabetic and believe you might be pregnant, you need to see a physician as soon as possible. Failing to take care of your diabetes during your pregnancy can have a negative long-term effect on your and your child.
Symptoms of Diabetes
While gestational diabetes does not generally come with symptoms, pregnant women may feel some subtle signs. If you have not been tested for type 2 diabetes but are suffering from any of the following symptoms, it is in your best interest to get tested:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in feet or hands
- Unexplained weight loss
Risks to Unborn Children
Failing to properly take care of your diabetes during pregnancy can have negative effects on your child’s health. Children born to women with diabetes are at a greater risk of developing birth defects.
Having high blood glucose levels during the first trimester can be especially damaging as these are the months during which a baby’s organs are forming. Some of the major risks unborn children face when their mother has diabetes – whether type 2 or gestational – includes:
- Macrosomia: This occurs when the child grows larger than usual due to excess insulin in the mother’s bloodstream being fed to the child through the placenta. This condition can make vaginal delivery difficult and can increase the risk of injury during childbirth.
- C-Section Operations: As a result of macrosomia, mothers with gestational diabetes have a higher chance of needing a C-section during delivery. It takes longer for women to recover after a c-section in comparison to a traditional birth.
- Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure issues): A major issue for diabetic mothers, high blood pressure can cause a premature birth or cause the mother to suffer a potential seizure or stroke. Women with diabetes are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Hypoglycemia: Your child can develop hypoglycemia if you are dealing with high insulin levels yourself. Hypoglycemia occurs when the blood glucose levels are low as a result of skipping meals, not eating enough, or overexerting yourself physically.
- Prolonged Jaundice: Jaundice has been attributed to diabetes but your pediatric care provider can help your newborn with this condition.
- Birth Defects: High blood glucose levels can cause heart, brain, or spinal defects.
- Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Babies with mothers who had gestational diabetes face a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.
Sadly, miscarriage is also a potential issue if the mother has diabetes and does not have it under control.
While your baby’s health is of utmost importance to you, your health is just as important in making sure you have a safe pregnancy. Failing to keep diabetes under control can have severe consequences for mothers including:
- Diabetes-related eye problems
- Diabetes-related kidney problems
- Infections of the urinary bladder and vaginal area
Over time, diabetes can cause serious health problems such as:
- Heart disease
- Dental disease
- Nerve damage
- Foot problems
Handling Diabetes During Pregnancy
Treating diabetes during pregnancy is a must to keeping you and your baby healthy. Luckily, there are plenty of simple lifestyle changes that can be made to help ensure your child stays strong and you have a comfortable pregnancy.
- Seek out medical care as soon as you know you are pregnant. Your health care team will help to create a plan to help you manage your diabetes.
- Talk to a nutritionist or dietician if possible. They can help you to develop a healthy meal plan that will ensure you get all the proper nutrition to control your blood sugar and keep your body healthy during the pregnancy.
- Make sure to stay as physically active as possible. Talk to your doctor to see what exercises are best throughout the various stages of your pregnancy.
- Avoid using alcohol, smoking, and drugs during your pregnancy.
- Talk to your doctor about any current medications you are taking for your diabetes to find out what is safest for you and the baby during your pregnancy.
- If your doctor orders you to take insulin, make sure to take it exactly as directed to help keep your diabetes under control.
- Make sure to get tested for diabetes after pregnancy. Getting tested 6 to 12 weeks after your child is born, then every 1 to 3 years after, can help to prevent you from developing type 2 diabetes.
Follow Project DOC on Facebook to find out when we are having our free community health screening events for pregnant mothers.
Just because you are dealing with diabetes does not mean that you cannot enjoy a healthy pregnancy. Effectively managing your glucose levels, exercising on a regular basis, eating healthily, and staying connected with your doctor and medical team can go a long way to making sure everything turns fine.
Project DOC wants you to have a healthy and successful pregnancy. We connect pregnant mothers in the Rio Grande Valley with our network of health systems, doctors, nurses, promotoras, and other health organizations so that you get the medical care you need.