Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. When you are pregnant, high blood sugar levels are not good for your baby.
About seven out of every 100 pregnant women in the United States get gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is diabetes that happens for the first time when a woman is pregnant. Most of the time, it goes away after you have your baby. But it does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes later on. Your child is also at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Most women get a test to check for diabetes during their second trimester of pregnancy. Women at higher risk may get a test earlier.
If you already have diabetes, the best time to control your blood sugar is before you get pregnant. High blood sugar levels can be harmful to your baby during the first weeks of pregnancy – even before you know you are pregnant. To keep you and your baby healthy, it is important to keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible before and during pregnancy.
Either type of diabetes during pregnancy increases the chances of problems for you and your baby. To help lower the chances talk to your health care team about:
- A meal plan for your pregnancy
- A safe exercise plan
- How often to test your blood sugar
- Taking your medicine as prescribed. Your medicine plan may need to change during pregnancy.
If you have diabetes and plan to have a baby, you should try to get your blood glucose levels close to your target range before you get pregnant.
Staying in your target range during pregnancy, which may be different than when you aren’t pregnant, is also important. High blood glucose, also called blood sugar, can harm your baby during the first weeks of pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant. If you have diabetes and are already pregnant, see your doctor as soon as possible to make a plan to manage your diabetes. Working with your health care team and following your diabetes management plan can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
If you develop diabetes for the first time while you are pregnant, you have gestational diabetes.
How can diabetes affect my baby?
A baby’s organs, such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and lungs, start forming during the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. High blood glucose levels can be harmful during this early stage and can increase the chance that your baby will have birth defects, such as heart defects or defects of the brain or spine.
High blood glucose levels during pregnancy can also increase the chance that your baby will be born too early, weigh too much, or have breathing problems or low blood glucose right after birth.
High blood glucose also can increase the chance that you will have a miscarriage NIH external link or a stillborn baby.1 Stillborn means the baby dies in the womb during the second half of pregnancy.
How can my diabetes affect me during pregnancy?
Hormonal and other changes in your body during pregnancy affect your blood glucose levels, so you might need to change how you manage your diabetes. Even if you’ve had diabetes for years, you may need to change your meal plan, physical activity routine, and medicines. If you have been taking an oral diabetes medicine, you may need to switch to insulin. As you get closer to your due date, your management plan might change again.
What health problems could I develop during pregnancy because of my diabetes?
Pregnancy can worsen certain long-term diabetes problems, such as eye problems and kidney disease, especially if your blood glucose levels are too high.
You also have a greater chance of developing preeclampsia, sometimes called toxemia, which is when you develop high blood pressure and too much protein in your urine during the second half of pregnancy. Preeclampsia NIH external link can cause serious or life-threatening problems for you and your baby. The only cure for preeclampsia is to give birth. If you have preeclampsia and have reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor may want to deliver your baby early. Before 37 weeks, you and your doctor may consider other options to help your baby develop as much as possible before he or she is born.
How can I prepare for pregnancy if I have diabetes?
If you have diabetes, keeping your blood glucose as close to normal as possible before and during your pregnancy is important to stay healthy and have a healthy baby. Getting checkups before and during pregnancy, following your diabetes meal plan, being physically active as your health care team advises, and taking diabetes medicines if you need to will help you manage your diabetes. Stopping smoking and taking vitamins as your doctor advises also can help you and your baby stay healthy.
Work with your health care team
Regular visits with members of a health care team who are experts in diabetes and pregnancy will ensure that you and your baby get the best care. Your health care team may include
- a medical doctor who specializes in diabetes care, such as an endocrinologist or a diabetologist
- an obstetrician with experience treating women with diabetes
- a diabetes educator who can help you manage your diabetes
- a nurse practitioner NIH external link who provides prenatal care NIH external link during your pregnancy
- a registered dietitian to help with meal planning
- specialists who diagnose and treat diabetes-related problems, such as vision problems, kidney disease, and heart disease
- a social worker or psychologist to help you cope with stress, worry, and the extra demands of pregnancy
You are the most important member of the team. Your health care team can give you expert advice, but you are the one who must manage your diabetes every day.