Are you at risk?
If you’re pregnant, you might be thinking about the amount of folic acid in your multivitamin. Or maybe you’re just thinking about where to find pickle-flavoured ice cream at 2 a.m. You’re probably not aware of how your body’s elevated hormones are messing with insulin in your cells and spiking your blood sugar. But if you’re within the three to seven percent of pregnant women who develop diabetes during pregnancy-called gestational diabetes-you should be.
A further 5.5 percent of Canadian women have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and while most are older, the disease is becoming more common among women of reproductive age. Luckily, having a healthy pregnancy with diabetes is also common, with the right help and proper self-care. Read on for what you need to know to keep yourself and your baby in good health for those nine months, and beyond.
1. Plan your pregnancy
Dealing with complications caused by diabetes can be a game-changer during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes tends to show up later on (around weeks 24 to 28) and the tricky part is, there are usually no symptoms. (Occasionally gestational diabetes is associated with excessive thirst and increased urination.)
Risk factors can include advanced maternal age, family history, obesity and ethnic background, the same as for type 2 diabetes. “It’s the same disease,” says Dr. Erin Keely, chief of endocrinology and metabolism at Ottawa Hospital. “It’s just that pregnancy brings it out earlier.” She calls pregnancy an insulin-resistant state, meaning that a woman’s body is under pressure to make more insulin to keep her blood sugar down.
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the most critical time to seek help is before you conceive. “It’s so important for these women to plan their pregnancies,” says Jennifer Snyder, a nutritionist and Perinatal Clinical Activities Specialist at McGill University Health Centre who also works with the Canadian Diabetes Association. Complications can include eye disease, kidney disease, nerve damage and blood-vessel damage for you, and congenital defects and a bigger birth size for your baby, which might mean a difficult pregnancy.
2. Don’t skip tests
Screening tests for gestational diabetes are fairly common, although it can depend on your doctor. The Canadian Diabetes Association calls for all pregnant women to be screened, while the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada advises screening only for women with risk factors.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor will give you a glucometer to measure your blood sugar four times a day, first thing in the morning and after every meal. Controlling blood sugar, based on frequent testing, is the absolute best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy for mother and baby.
For gestational diabetes, the a.m. test is the most telling. “When a woman with gestational diabetes ends up going on insulin, it’s usually to control high blood sugar in the morning, after her overnight fast,” Snyder says. Women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes should follow their same pre-pregnancy regime. But, if you’re taking insulin tablets, you might be switched to injections, since pregnancy hormones raise blood sugar higher-sometimes two to three times-than what’s typical. The last three months of pregnancy often require extra high doses of insulin since the hormones associated with the baby’s growth block insulin production.