Women with diabetes have added concerns when deciding to get pregnant. Here’s what you need to know.
When the subject of diabetes and pregnancy comes up the conversation usually revolves around gestational diabetes. This is a type of diabetes that develops in some women after they become pregnant, and it usually ceases to be a problem once the child is born.
But what about those who are already diabetic and considering having children? For these women, along with the physical and emotional demands pregnancy inherently brings, there are additional considerations and concerns that come with having a baby.
This is primarily because pregnancy will affect your blood sugar levels and impact some of the medications you might be taking as part of your diabetes treatment plan. So yes, you have a little more on your plate. However, countless women with diabetes enjoy healthy pregnancies and welcome healthy babies into the world. There is no reason you shouldn’t, too.
If you can prepare, do it.
If you are planning on having a child and are currently managing diabetes, you’ve already got a head start because preparation is a big advantage. If you know you want to get pregnant, make sure your blood sugar levels are testing in the normal range and stable for an extended period before you and your partner start trying. In fact, it’s a good idea to meet with your doctor, usually an endocrinologist, for a preconception consultation. You’ll discuss all sorts of things and will probably get an A1C test which will show your average blood sugar levels over the past two or three months. It’s an easy way to measure if your diabetes is well under control.
Your doctor may also perform a few other routine tests, including measuring cholesterol and triglycerides, a urinalysis test to check kidney functions, and an electrocardiogram to rule out any cardiac issues. Additionally, any medications you’re currently taking to manage your diabetes will be examined and adjusted if necessary.
The point is, if you can stabilize your blood sugar, see your doctor and get everything in order before you become pregnant, you can start off knowing your diabetes health is in a good place. This brings some real peace-of-mind.
Not every pregnancy is planned
We understand that not every pregnancy is expected. Those happy accidents can happen to women with diabetes just like anyone else. If you find yourself pregnant unexpectedly, the first thing to do is see your doctor. Depending on how long you’ve been pregnant, your blood sugar levels may have changed and your target levels may need to be adjusted, as well.
It’s critical that blood sugar levels are tested and stabilized early in the pregnancy because high blood glucose levels within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy can increase the risk of a miscarriage, as well as diabetes-related complications in both the mother and unborn child.
Of course, many women don’t realize they are pregnant until the baby has been growing for two to four weeks. That’s why the moment you realize you are pregnant it is important to see your diabetes physician right away and begin building a pregnancy care team with the experts you’ll need for a healthy pregnancy. Your team may include:
Your Diabetes Physician - usually an endocrinologist or medical doctor who specializes in diabetes.
Obstetrician – choose one with experience working with women who have diabetes.
Diabetes educator – an expert who can help you manage your diabetes as your body changes.
Registered dietitian – to help plan meals that provide both the nutrients and blood sugar control you need for a healthy pregnancy.
How can a mother’s diabetes impact a baby?
First of all, it’s important to point out once again that most women with diabetes go on to enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy, happy babies. However, when not controlled properly, diabetes leads to high blood glucose levels which pose a number of serious risks to babies. These include:
A baby’s organs, including the heart, brain, lungs, and kidneys begin forming within the first eight weeks of pregnancy. If the mother is experiencing prolonged high blood sugar levels during this period, it can be detrimental to this development and result in defects of the heart, spine and even brain.
Macrosomia is a condition in which a baby weighs more than 8lbs, 13oz at birth. This can be a direct result of high blood sugar and, unfortunately, a baby this large has more chance of being injured during the birthing process, and usually leads doctors to recommend a c-section.
Women with diabetes, particularly when not properly controlled, are at greater risk for delivering early, which can lead to health problems in the baby later in life.
Diabetes increases the risk of Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) in babies, a condition that occurs when a baby does not have enough surfactant in the lungs.
If you regularly have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, it may actually cause your baby to experience dangerously low blood sugar immediately following delivery. This is because, while in the womb, your baby’s insulin is based on your high blood sugar. When your blood sugar is suddenly taken away at birth, it causes your baby’s blood sugar levels to rapidly drop. Fortunately, treating the baby with glucose is usually a simple way to bring levels back within the safe range.
You are the key to healthy pregnancy
It’s great to have support and guidance from your doctor and care team, however, ultimately you are the best advocate your child can possibly have. It falls on your shoulders to test your blood sugar regularly; administer insulin injections (usually by syringe or pen needle) and take other medications as prescribed; and follow your doctor-approved diabetes health and wellness plan.
The absolute best thing you can do for your baby, whether you’ve been planning for one or not, is to manage your diabetes to the best of your ability.
Pregnancy changes things. If you use insulin or other medications to help control blood sugar, you and your doctor will figure out what adjustments, if any, need to be made while you’re carrying the baby. You may need additional medication to keep things in check, particularly during the final three months.
Again your doctor and, perhaps, a dietician will help guide you in a diet that offers the additional calories you need during pregnancy, while also helping you avoid those dangerous blood sugar spikes. It’s a balancing act and you’ll need to figure it out and follow it.
Pregnancy, while beautiful, is not without its challenges and, as you likely know, stress can impact your body’s use of insulin and lead to higher blood sugar levels. It’s important to find time to relax and unwind, whether that’s through meditation, doctor-approved exercise, yoga, or even just nice, leisurely walks.
Being active is a great way to help control blood sugar. Talk to your doctor and care team about an activity program that works for your fitness level and pregnancy conditions. Prior to becoming pregnant, physical activity can help you shed any excess pounds, get your heart in better shape, and help you maintain normal blood sugar levels more consistently. The better shape you can be in before getting pregnant, the easier it’ll be to continue once you are pregnant.
Ultimately, there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy a healthy pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby. The keys are being informed; listening to your care team; following your diabetes treatment plan; and making smart choices to keep your blood sugar under control. Do these things and you and your baby are off to a great start.
At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to keeping you updated with the latest news and insights about living with diabetes. We’re also proud to make following your doctor-approved diabetes care plan easier and more affordable with an online selection of diabetic supplies priced up to 65% less than you’ll pay at your local pharmacy or other suppliers.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.