Prediabetes and Getting Pregnant

A close-up of a pregnant woman having her blood sugar/ glucose checked.

When you think about all of the things you monitor on your daily path to getting pregnant, is your blood sugar level one of them?

When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes. My midwife taught me how to use my diet to control it, and thankfully I didn’t have any problems and neither did the baby. But it really sparked something in me because during one of the conversations with the midwife, she mentioned that some of the problems I had been having not only during previous pregnancies (both full term and miscarriages) but also during the in-between times indicated that I had a sugar imbalance. Not that I was diabetic, my numbers were in the normal range often enough to count me out as being diabetic, but what she said is prediabetic. It is also known as impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance.

Prediabetes means you have a higher than normal blood sugar level. It’s not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes yet, but without lifestyle changes, adults and children with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A normal blood sugar reading is less than 110 mg/dl; greater than 126 is diabetes. If your fasting blood sugar lands somewhere between those numbers, you’ve qualified for prediabetes.

If you have pre-diabetes, the long-term damage of diabetes — especially to your heart, blood vessels and kidneys — may already be starting. However, with making lifestyle changes (such as switching to a healthier diet and making physical activity part of your daily routine) can help bring your blood sugar level back to normal.

Symptoms

More than 86 million people in the United States—that’s 1 out of every 3 adults—are prediabetic, yet 90 percent of them have no idea. That’s a problem, because if you don’t know you have it you likely aren’t making the changes needed to ward off the full-blown disease. Prediabetes doesn’t usually have any signs or symptoms.

Classic signs and symptoms that suggest you’ve moved from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Excess hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision

Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy don’t exactly go back to “normal” after their babies are born. Even if your blood sugar level is OK at your postpartum checkup, you still have an increased risk of prediabetes and diabetes later in life. Ditto if you had a baby who weighed over nine pounds at birth.

Your family history and ethnicity matter, too. If diabetes is in your family tree—especially if you’re African American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander American—you’re more likely to end up with prediabetes.

Prediabetes Causes and Risk Factors

You’re more likely to get prediabetes if you:

  • Are older, especially over age 45
  • Have a waist larger than 40 inches around if you’re a man and 35 inches around if you’re a woman.
  • Eat a lot of red and processed meat, drink sugary beverages, and don’t eat much fruit, veggies, nuts, whole grains, or olive oil
  • Are African American, Native American, Latino, or Pacific Islander
  • Are overweight or obese, especially if you have extra pounds around your middle (belly fat)
  • Have high cholesterol, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and high LDL cholesterol
  • Don’t exercise
  • Had gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome 
  • Have a sleep problem, like sleep apnea, or work changing shifts or night shifts

Without treatment, prediabetes can become gestational diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or cause other serious problems including:

  • Kidney disease
  • Blindness
  • High blood pressure
  • Nerve problems (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Loss of a limb (amputation)

Treating Prediabetes

Take these steps to treat prediabetes:

  • Eat a healthy  diet  and lose  weight. Losing even 5% to 10% of your weight can make a huge difference.
  • Exercise. Pick something you enjoy, like walking. Try to get at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can start with less time and work your way up to a half-hour if you need to. Check with your doctor before you do more than that.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Get your  blood pressure  and cholesterol under control.
  • Take  medication  like metformin (Glucophage) to lower your blood sugar if you’re at high risk of diabetes.
  • Reduce alcohol intake. Don’t have more than one alcoholic drink a day.

Is There a Prediabetes Diet?

There’s no official diet, but four swaps can reverse prediabetes and lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes:

  • Choose whole grains and whole-grain products over processed carbs like white bread, potatoes, and breakfast cereals.
  • Drink coffee, water, and tea instead of sugary drinks.
  • Choose good fats like those in vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds over those in margarine, baked goods, and fried foods.
  • Trade red meat and processed meats for nuts, whole grains, poultry, and fish.

Prediabetes and Getting Pregnant

High blood sugar levels early in the pregnancy (before 13 weeks) can cause birth defects. They also can increase the risks of miscarriage and diabetes-related complications.

But many women don’t know they’re pregnant until the baby has been growing for 2 to 4 weeks. That’s why you should have good control of your blood sugar before you start trying to conceive.

Keep blood glucose levels within the ideal range:

  • 70 to 100 mg/dL before meals
  • Less than 120 mg/dL 2 hours after eating
  • 100-140 mg/dL before your bedtime snack 

Use your meals, exercise, and diabetes medications to keep a healthy balance.

How Diabetes May Affect Your Baby

Babies born to women with diabetes are often much bigger, a condition called “macrosomia.”

Because their mothers have high blood sugar levels, they get too much sugar through the placenta. The baby’s pancreas senses it and makes more insulin to use it up. That extra sugar gets converted to fat, making a large baby.

Many hospitals keep an eye on babies of mothers with diabetes for several hours after birth. If you regularly have high blood sugar levels while you’re pregnant (and especially in the 24 hours before delivery), your baby may get dangerously low blood sugar right after they’re born. Their insulin is based on your high sugar, and when it’s suddenly taken away, their blood sugar level drops quickly and they’ll need glucose to balance it out.

Their calcium and magnesium levels may be off, too. Those can be fixed with medication.

Some babies are too big to be delivered vaginally, and you’ll need a cesarean delivery or c-section. Your doctor will keep an eye on your baby’s size so you can plan for the safest way to give birth.

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Make sure you grab a copy of my FREE guide 5 Steps To Increase Your Fertile Cervical Mucus & my FREE Self-Care Mini Course. You can access either one by clicking on the title. These are packed full of information that you can begin implementing today to put yourself one step closer to getting pregnant, naturally.

If you’re looking for a group of like-minded women with which to share your fertility wellness journey, be sure to check out my Whole Body Fertility & Wellness Facebook group today!


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