4 ways to help prevent gestational diabetes


by Catherine Bevan, MD

Jan 11, 2023

Gestational diabetes is a form of high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy and can have serious consequences for both mother and baby. It’s important for expectant mothers to be aware of the risk factors and take steps to prevent the condition.

Let’s go over some of the key ways to prevent gestational diabetes and have a healthy pregnancy. Remember, you can always talk with your OBGYN if you’re worried about your risk for gestational diabetes.

What is gestational diabetes?

First, let’s define gestational diabetes. This condition occurs when a woman’s body is unable to produce enough insulin to meet the additional demands of pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels become too high, it can lead to gestational diabetes.

Most women with gestational diabetes are diagnosed through a glucose tolerance test, or glucose challenge test, which is a standard practice in prenatal care around 24-28 weeks. For the test, your blood sugar level is measured one hour after drinking a sugary solution. The results indicate whether you might have gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes carries a few risks for baby, including increased risk of needing NICU time, birth trauma due to larger size, jaundice and breathing difficulties. Giving birth to a large baby can also increase the mother’s risk of complications like difficult labor, vaginal tearing or emergency C-section.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes

There are several risk factors that can increase a woman’s chance of developing gestational diabetes. These include:

  • Being overweight or obese before pregnancy
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Having previously given birth to a large baby (over 9 pounds)
  • Being older than 25 years old
  • Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Having a history of gestational diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your OBGYN about your risk of gestational diabetes and what steps you can take to prevent it.

How to prevent gestational diabetes

Fortunately, there are several simple ways to lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Let’s talk about a few steps you can take today.

1. Maintain a healthy weight

One of the most effective ways to prevent gestational diabetes is by maintaining a healthy weight before and during pregnancy. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of gestational diabetes and other complications during pregnancy.

If you are overweight, your healthcare provider may recommend that you lose weight before becoming pregnant. If you are already pregnant, talk to your doctor about healthy weight gain during pregnancy. A registered dietitian may be a helpful resource if you’re not sure where to start.

2. Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet is also essential for preventing gestational diabetes. Before and during pregnancy, make sure you eat a variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.

Avoiding sugary drinks and foods can also help keep blood sugar levels in check. Additionally, it is important to eat regular, balanced meals to help regulate blood sugar levels—so, don’t skip meals just for the sake of cutting your food intake.

3. Exercise

Exercise can also help prevent gestational diabetes. Regular physical activity can help control blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Before starting a new exercise routine, talk to your healthcare provider about an appropriate exercise plan during pregnancy. It’s important to find an activity you enjoy, whether that be walking, yoga, pilates or strength training.

4. Monitor your blood sugar

Another way to prevent gestational diabetes is to monitor your blood sugar levels. Your OBGYN may recommend that you undergo a screening test for gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. If you are at high risk for gestational diabetes, you may need to undergo additional testing.

You can monitor your blood sugar levels at home with an at-home blood glucose meter before and after meals or try a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) if you have access. Keep in mind these may not be covered by your insurance.

Bottom line on gestational diabetes

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, pay careful attention to and follow your healthcare provider’s treatment plan. This may include making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, as well as taking medications to help control your blood sugar levels. Be sure and regularly monitor your blood sugar levels and attend all follow-up appointments with your OBGYN.

Gestational diabetes can have serious consequences for both mother and baby. But by understanding your risk factors and taking steps to prevent gestational diabetes, you can have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

If you’re at high risk for gestational diabetes, talk to your OBGYN about steps you can take today.

Find an OBGYN near you.

About the Author

Dr. Bevan is a obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Fort Worth. She is affiliated with Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center - Fort Worth and Baylor Scott & White Surgicare - Fort Worth. Dr. Bevan has volunteered for a number of efforts, including a pediatric rotation in Bangalore, India, and a family health program in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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