Treatment for gestational diabetes involves making healthy choices. Most women who make changes in the way that they eat and how often they exercise are able to keep their blood sugar level within a target range. Controlling your blood sugar is the key to preventing problems during pregnancy or birth.
You, your doctor, and other health professionals will work together to develop a treatment plan just for you. You do not need to eat strange or special foods. But you may need to change what, when, and how much you eat. And walking several times a week can really help your blood sugar.
The lifestyle changes you make now will help you have a healthy pregnancy and prevent diabetes in the future. As you start making these changes, you will learn more about your body and how it reacts to food and exercise. You may also notice that you feel better and have more energy.
Treatment for gestational diabetes during pregnancy includes:
- Eating balanced meals. After you find out that you have gestational diabetes, you will meet with a registered dietitian to create a healthy eating plan. You will learn how to limit the amount of carbohydrate you eat as a way to control your blood sugar. You may also be asked to write down everything you eat and to keep track of your weight. You will learn more about the range of weight gain that is good for you and your baby. Going on a diet during pregnancy is NOT recommended.
- Getting regular exercise. Try to do at least 2½ hours a week of moderate exercise.3, 4 One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Regular, moderate exercise during pregnancy helps your body use insulin better and helps control your blood sugar level. If you have never exercised regularly or were not exercising before you became pregnant, talk with your doctor before you start exercising. Low-impact activities, such as walking or swimming, are especially good for pregnant women. You may also want to try special exercise classes for pregnant women.
- Checking blood sugar levels. An important part of treating gestational diabetes is checking your blood sugar level at home. Every day, you will do a home blood sugar test one or more times. It may be overwhelming to test your blood sugar so often. But knowing that your level is within a target range can help put your mind at ease. Talk to your doctor about how often to test your blood sugar.
- Monitoring fetal growth and well-being. Your doctor may want you to monitor fetal movements called kick counts and let him or her know if you think your baby is moving less than usual. You may also have fetal ultrasounds to see how well your baby is growing. You may have a nonstress test to check how well your baby's heart responds to movement.
- Getting regular medical checkups. Having gestational diabetes means regular visits to your doctor. At these visits, your doctor will check your blood pressure and test a sample of your urine. You will also discuss your blood sugar levels, what you have been eating, how much you have been exercising, and how much weight you have gained.
- Taking diabetes medicine and insulin shots. The first way to treat gestational diabetes is by changing the way you eat and exercising regularly. If your blood sugar levels are too high, you may need diabetes medicine or insulin shots.
During labor and delivery
Most women who have gestational diabetes are able to have their babies vaginally. Just because you have gestational diabetes does not mean that you will need to have a cesarean section (C-section).
Because a baby that has grown too large can be difficult to deliver safely, your doctor will do fetal ultrasounds to check the size of your baby. If your doctor thinks that your baby is in danger of being too large, he or she may decide to induce labor or do a C-section.
During labor and delivery, you and your baby are monitored closely. This includes:
- Checking your blood sugar level regularly. If your level gets too high, you may be given small amounts of insulin through a vein (intravenously, or IV). If your level drops too low, you may be given IV fluid that contains glucose.
- Checking your baby's heart rate and how well your baby's heart responds to movement. Fetal heart monitoring helps your doctor know how your baby is doing during labor. If the baby is large or does not seem to be doing well, you may need to have a C-section to deliver your baby.
After delivery, you and your baby still need to be monitored closely.
- For the first few hours, your blood sugar level may be tested every hour. Usually blood sugar levels quickly return to normal.
- Your baby's blood sugar level will also be watched. If your blood sugar levels were high during pregnancy, your baby's body will make extra insulin for several hours after birth. This extra insulin may cause your baby's blood sugar to drop too low (hypoglycemia). If your baby's blood sugar level drops too low, he or she may need extra sugar, such as a sugar water drink or glucose given intravenously.
- Your baby's blood may also be checked for low calcium, high bilirubin, and extra red blood cells.
What to think about
Most of the time, the blood sugar levels of women who have gestational diabetes return to normal in a few hours or days after delivery.
If you have had gestational diabetes, you are at risk for having it again in a future pregnancy. You are also at risk of type 2 diabetes, a permanent type of diabetes. The healthy choices and changes you made during your pregnancy, if continued, will help you prevent diabetes in the future. If you are worried about type 2 diabetes in yourself or in your child, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
Most doctors will recommend that you breastfeed, if possible, for the health benefits for you and your baby. For example, breastfeeding can help keep your child at a healthy weight, which may reduce his or her chances of developing diabetes. It provides antibodies to strengthen your baby's immune system. And it lowers your baby's risk for many types of infections. Also, it may lower your chances of developing diabetes later in life.