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Gestational diabetes: Can I lower my risk?

Gestational diabetes is a particular type of diabetes that only happens during pregnancy and affects around 4% of mums-to-be.

The body becomes more resistant to insulin because of hormone changes due to being pregnant.

This can allow blood sugar (glucose) levels to become too high, which can affect the health of the woman and her growing baby.

It isn't always clear why some women develop gestational diabetes while others don't. However, doctors do know there are proven risk factors.

You can't do anything about some of these, such as your family having a history of diabetes, or having a specific ethnic origin, such as South Asian, black Caribbean or Middle Eastern.

The risk is also higher for women who've had a baby already which weighed 4.5kg (10lbs) or more at birth, or who had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy. Again, these risk factors cannot be influenced.

The major risk factor women can try to change is their body mass index (BMI) before becoming pregnant. If this is 30 or more, the risk of gestational diabetes is higher.

How to lower your risk

If you're planning to have a baby, and your BMI is over 30, talk to your GP about taking steps to lower this in a steady and healthy way.

Losing weight is down to a combination of what you eat and drink, and the amount of exercise you take.

Diet

Get advice on eating a healthy balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables to boost the amount of fibre you eat, but lower in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt.

Portions and the timing of meals can also make a difference.

Check the glycaemic index (GI) of food to see how quickly it increases blood glucose levels.

Some research suggests that in a woman's pre-pregnancy diet, low fibre and a high glycaemic load is associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes.

Exercise

Exercise is the other big thing you can do to help lose weight and keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. The more active you are, the more calories you burn to help reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise isn't just about going to the gym or taking up running. Anything that makes you build-up a sweat can count as exercise, from getting off the bus a stop earlier and walking instead, to housework, gardening and even having sex.

In one study, researchers found that women who were physically active before, and also during their pregnancy, reduced their risk of gestational diabetes.

Exercise is also important during pregnancy, with walking and swimming being good choices.

Your doctor or midwife can offer advice on how much physical activity to aim for, and how often. It can depend upon your overall health.

After delivery

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after giving birth. However, women who've had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future.

This means the same diet and exercise approaches you took pre-pregnancy are just as important after delivery.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 22, 2017

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