Is It OK to Take Insulin for Gestational Diabetes?

Eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise may be all you need to control your blood sugar levels during your pregnancy. But when that's not enough, you may need to take insulin, too.

Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells take in and use glucose. Your pancreas makes insulin, but the kind you take is made in a lab. Your doctor may prescribe it when your body doesn't make enough on its own to keep your blood sugar levels in a normal range. That will help prevent problems for you and your baby.

Insulin doesn't cross the placenta, which means it can't get to your baby, so it's safe to use as prescribed.

Taking Insulin

You inject it under your skin with a syringe or insulin pen. You can't take insulin as a pill or drink it. How much you'll need and how often you'll need it will probably change during your pregnancy.

Some kinds of insulin work in just a few minutes; others work more slowly but last longer. You take fast-acting insulin with a meal, so it goes to work right away to help your body use the glucose from the food you ate. Your doctor will probably prescribe this type, along with one that lasts about 12 hours or overnight.

Longer-acting (24-hour) insulin hasn't been studied with pregnant women.

What to Watch For

You might get sore and have hard lumps where you inject the insulin. To prevent this, try not to give yourself the shot in the same place every time.

Insulin can also cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) when there's not enough glucose in your blood for your body to work right. You're more likely to have this if you skip a meal or use too much insulin.

Be sure you know the warning signs: dizziness, sweating, shaking, and blurry vision. The best treatment is a quick-sugar food like raisins, honey, or glucose tablets or gel. Low blood sugar can be dangerous for you and your baby, so do something about it right away.

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After Your Pregnancy

The hospital will check your blood sugar before you leave. If it's normal, you can stop taking insulin.

But because you've had gestational diabetes, you're more likely to get type 2 diabetes later. To be safe, you should have a diabetes test 6 months after you give birth and then usually every 3 years, or as often as your doctor recommends.

Other Medicines

If you have trouble taking insulin or don't want to use it, talk to your doctor about your options.

You may be able to take a diabetes pill instead to control your blood sugar. The FDA hasn't approved drugs other than insulin for pregnant women because they cross the placenta. But studies show that medicines like metformin and glyburide are safe, and some doctors prescribe them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 31, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

UCFS Medical Center: "Diabetes in Pregnancy."

World Journal of Diabetes: "Gestational diabetes: A clinical update."

Joslin Diabetes Center: "Guideline for Detection and Management of Diabetes in Pregnancy."

Kaiser Permanente: "Gestational Diabetes Screening and Treatment Guideline."

CDC: "Diabetes and Pregnancy."

American Diabetes Association: "Insulin Basics," "Insulin Routines," "Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose)."

Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology: "Current Management of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus."

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "FAQ177 Pregnancy: Gestational Diabetes."

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