Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman exhibits high blood sugar for the first time during pregnancy. Scientists have determined a correlation between maternal weight and risk of gestational diabetes. In an effort to reach more women at risk of having heavy babies, the American Diabetes Association recently broadened the diagnostic criteria for gestational diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease in which a person has high levels of blood glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. All people need glucose for energy, but having too much can be harmful, and when a woman is pregnant, it can also injure the baby.

Babies born to mothers who have gestational diabetes are at risk for: macrosomia (larger-size), shoulder dystocia, low-blood glucose at birth, and breathing problems. Babies with excess insulin, which actually causes low blood glucose at birth, become children who are at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

In a recent study by Canadian researchers, the strongest risk factor for large infants is maternal obesity. In the study, the heavier the mother was before pregnancy, and the more weight she gained over the course of the pregnancy, the higher her risk for giving birth to a baby that weighed nine or more pounds.

“From a clinical perspective, those who are at risk include those with clinical risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including previous glucose intolerance, overweight/obesity, non-white ethnicity, and a family history of type 2 diabetes,” said Ravi Retnakaran, MD, endocrinologist, associate professor, University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine and lead researcher in the study.

But women who do not meet the criteria for gestational diabetes may also be at risk for having a large baby.

“Amongst women without gestational diabetes, maternal weight is the key determinant of the risk of having a large baby,” said Retnakaran.

That’s why it is vital for women to be aware of the risk factors and to focus on those they can control. “The main modifiable risk factor for gestational diabetes is maternal weight,” said Retnakaran. “Achieving a healthy body weight prior to pregnancy can likely reduce the risk of developing [this condition].”

According to information from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, there are no total assurances when it comes to preventing gestational diabetes. However, the more behavioral changes and healthy habits women can incorporate into their daily routines before pregnancy, the better. Here are a few things a woman can do:

• Choose food wisely: eat healthy foods low in fat and high in fiber. It is essential to eat fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

• Exercise: start an exercise routine before becoming pregnant and continue it throughout the pregnancy (with doctor approval). Most health professionals recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week.

• Shed the extra pounds before becoming pregnant: weight loss is frowned upon during pregnancy, but if a woman is planning on becoming pregnant, losing the extra weight beforehand can help safeguard her health and the health of her baby.

Women who have had gestational diabetes previously are at risk for developing it in subsequent pregnancies. Making healthy choices and incorporating them into your lifestyle can lower the risk of diabetes in future pregnancies and later in life.

Source: Society for Women’s Health Research Press Release