Pregnancy and diabetes 101

Pregnancy and diabetes 101

Motherhood is a great adventure and (morning sickness aside!) being pregnant is magical. Inside of you, a perfect little baby is growing… Carine Visagie explains what you need to know to ensure everything goes smoothly.

If you have diabetes, or get diabetes during pregnancy, you’ll naturally want to know what you can do to stay healthy. We spoke to endocrinologist Dr Veronique Nicolaou, obstetricians Dr Veronique Eeckhout and Dr Manasri Naiker, and registered dietician Emily Innes to learn more about diabetes and pregnancy.

Get this right before pregnancy

Keen to start a family? Don’t ditch the contraceptives yet. To prevent miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects and other complications, our experts say you first need to:

1. Tightly control your blood sugar levels. This means keeping your HbA1c below 6.1% for three months.
2. Lose excess weight. Being overweight ups your risk of complications during pregnancy.
3. Take a 5mg folic acid supplement (three months before pregnancy up until the 2nd trimester).
4. Stop smoking.

Stay healthy during pregnancy

If all goes according to plan, you’ll soon be pregnant. Congratulations! Now is the time to focus on your baby’s growth and development, which (still) means managing your blood sugar levels as well as you can.

Poorly controlled blood sugar spells trouble for pregnant moms. Apart from a higher risk of infections, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) and ketoacidosis, excess amniotic fluid is an increased risk, which could lead to premature delivery. Existing diabetes-related problems (like nephropathy) may also worsen during pregnancy. Additionally, your baby may grow too big, which increases the risk of stillbirth, birth trauma and respiratory distress. But this is all if your blood sugar is uncontrolled: stay in good control and you’re likely to have a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy.

Five steps to stay in good control:

Step 1: Eat well.

  • Choose high-quality, nutritious foods.
  • Steer clear of refined carbohydrates.
  • Include healthy fats and lean protein at each meal.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables (and some fruit) every day.
  • Don’t be tempted to eat for two!

Step 2: Exercise.

Talk to your medical team about physical activity. Exercise is a key part of diabetes management, but can sometimes be risky (for example, if you have high blood pressure). Keep your pulse rate below 140 beats per minute at all times.

Step 3: Get your treatment plan right.

If you have Type 1 diabetes, talk about your insulin dosage with an endocrinologist: the amount of insulin you need may double or possibly triple during pregnancy. Women with Type 2 diabetes who use only oral medication (like metformin) before pregnancy may require insulin at some point. The good news is that metformin is safe to take during pregnancy.

Step 4: Monitor your blood sugar frequently.

As many as six times a day (before meals and snacks, and one hour after). Find out from your medical team if you should be doing any other checks (like ketone testing).

Step 5: Visit your obstetrician regularly.

Your doctor will tell you how often to come: some recommend very two weeks until 32 weeks of pregnancy. After this, schedule a weekly visit until your baby is born.

Natural birth or C-section?

If all goes well, it’s possible to deliver your baby naturally. The timing is more important than the method of delivery. Your doctor will most probably induce to deliver naturally at 38 weeks, or do a C-section if there are other problems (for example, if you have a large baby). To control your blood sugar during labour, an insulin pump and a dextrose drip will be used, and your sugar and ketone levels will be checked every 2 to 4 hours.

Gestational diabetes explained

Gestational diabetes occurs for the first time during pregnancy and goes away again after birth. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels in gestational diabetes can be as dangerous as in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It may be possible to control your blood sugar with diet and exercise, or medication may be necessary. The medication will most likely be stopped after pregnancy, but it’s important to get your blood sugar tested again six weeks after delivery to rule out Type 2 diabetes.

Our experts:

  • Dr Veronique Nicolaou, specialist physician and consultant endocrinologist, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital
  • Dr Veronique Eeckhout, gynaecologist and obstetrician, Medi-Clinic: Cape Town
  • Dr Manasri Naiker, gynaecologist and obstetrician, theWomanSpace: Cape Town
  • Emily Innes , registered dietician: Cape Town
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