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Gestational Diabetes: Can I Lower My Risk?

Your doctor may have told you that you are at high risk for a condition known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). If you develop GDM, you are more likely to have problems during pregnancy and delivery. As many as 18 of every 100 pregnant women will develop GDM.

Exactly how does GDM develop? When you become pregnant, your cells become slightly more resistant to insulin. This causes the amount of glucose or sugar in your blood to rise. The extra sugar helps make more nutrients available to the baby. But if the glucose can't get into cells and levels become too high, it can cause problems for you and your baby.

Learn why you are at high risk for GDM and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Why Am I at Increased Risk?

Even if your doctor explained that you were at high risk for GDM, you may not have completely understood why. Certain risk factors increase the chances you will get GDM. But no one can say for sure you will get it, just based on risk factors.

You are at increased risk if you:

  • Are Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
  • Were overweight before your pregnancy
  • Have a family member with diabetes
  • Are 25 or older
  • Had GDM in a previous pregnancy
  • Had a previous very large baby (9 pounds or more) or a stillbirth
  • Have had abnormal blood sugar tests before

Talk to your doctor to better evaluate your risk.

How to Lower Your Risk--Diet

If your risk of GDM is high, your doctor or a nutritionist may suggest you eat more healthfully. They can help you choose foods designed to keep your blood glucose within a healthy range.

  • Your health care professional can tell you which foods to eat and which to avoid. She or he can tell you about ideal portions and meal timing.
  • You should also limit sweets and track how many carbohydrate-rich foods you eat.
  • It's also a good idea to include fiber in your meals. This can be from fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, whole-grain crackers, and cereals. One large study looked at diets of women before they got pregnant. Each 10-gram increase in fiber a day reduced their risk of GDM by 26%.

How to Lower Your Risk--Activity

Getting regular physical activity, if your condition allows it, can help keep your glucose levels healthy.

In one study, researchers found that women who were physically active before and during their pregnancy reduced their risk of GDM by about 70% or even more. The women got about 4 hours a week of physical activity.

During pregnancy, walking and swimming are good choices.

Your doctor can tell you how much physical activity to aim for and how often. It depends upon your overall health.  

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