Gestational Diabetes: Can I Lower My Risk?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 10, 2023
3 min read

As many as 9 out of every 100 pregnant women will develop a condition known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). It can put you at risk for problems during pregnancy and delivery.

When you're 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 your baby.

But if your cells become too resistant and the glucose can't into them, your blood sugar level becomes too high. It can cause problems for you and your growing baby.

Although some things mean you're more likely to get it, you can steps to lower your risk.

No one can say for sure who will have gestational diabetes, but your chances go up 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 age 25 or older
  • Had gestational diabetes in an earlier pregnancy
  • Had a very large baby (9 pounds or more) or a stillbirth
  • Have had abnormal blood sugar tests before

Talk to your doctor about how likely you are to get it and what symptoms to watch for.

Your doctor or a nutritionist can help you choose foods that may keep your blood glucose within a healthy range. They can also teach you about ideal portions and meal timing.

In general, limit sweets and track how many carbohydrate-rich foods you eat.

Include fiber in your meals. This can come from vegetables, fruits, whole-grain breads, whole-grain crackers, and cereals. One large study looked at diets of women before they got pregnant. Each daily increase in fiber by 10 grams reduced their risk of gestational diabetes by 26%. In addition to what you eat, taking fiber supplements may be helpful in helping you reach your fiber intake needs. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Getting regular exercise, if your condition allows it, can help keep your glucose levels healthy. Walking and swimming are good choices.

In one study, researchers found that women who were physically active before and during their pregnancy -- about 4 hours a week -- lowered their risk of gestational diabetes by about 70% or even more.

Check with your doctor about how much and how often you should exercise. It depends upon your overall health.

Some of the same risk factors that put you in danger of getting gestational diabetes also make you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. And if you have gestational diabetes, your risk of type 2 diabetes after your pregnancy rises.

After your baby is born, follow the same healthy diet and exercise plan.

Getting back to a healthy weight will also lower your risk. But you don't have to worry about fitting into your "skinny jeans" again right away. When you're overweight, losing 5% to 7% of your body weight helps: If you weigh 180 pounds, losing just 9 pounds makes a difference.

Bonus: Shedding those pregnancy pounds will get you in better shape for being an active mother.