How to keep diabetes at bay during pregnancy?
Like other forms of diabetes, diabetes during pregnancy is a disorder which stems from the body’s inability to regulate glucose (blood sugar). Under normal conditions, glucose enters the cells of the various tissues thanks to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Once it has entered the cells, the glucose is used to produce the energy which is essential for living and for cell activity.
In diabetes during pregnancy, which affects 4% of pregnant women, this mechanism is blocked. Usually, the woman’s body manages to produce enough insulin to compensate. Sometimes, however, in women with certain genetic characteristics, the pancreas does not manage to produce more insulin and blood sugar levels remain higher than usual. In other cases, the blame lies with certain hormones produced by the placenta in the second trimester which can stop the insulin activity.
Tiredness is the first sign
Symptoms of diabetes during pregnancy are tiredness, persistent thirst and a frequent need to urinate. If neglected, it can cause serious problems for the child and the expectant mother. For the baby, too much blood sugar can lead to abnormal growth: women who suffer from diabetes in pregnancy, often give birth to an infant with macrosomia (more than 4 kilos in weight). Diabetes during pregnancy can make the mother more likely to suffer blood pressure disorders which increase the risk of miscarriage or premature birth.
Diet and movement
In diabetes during pregnancy, careful attention to diet is very important to keep blood sugar and body weight under control (obesity being a risk factor). A well balanced diet, tailored to the woman’s needs, should be prescribed by a doctor. Five meals a day are recommended and the diet should be low in sugar, (minimising sweets, biscuits, fruit juice, white bread and potatoes) and rich in complex carbohydrates (pasta, wholemeal bread, pulses); the green light is also given to fruit and vegetables which are rich in minerals, vitamins and fibres; (see here some tasty recipes) but be careful of salt and salty foods.
It is also important to maintain light physical activity (look here for some suggestions of gentle exercises): movement helps to keep blood sugar levels low by burning up excess sugar; it also improves the efficiency of the pancreas and helps to maintain an optimal weight.
Diet combined with exercise is beneficial but may also need to be combined with insulin treatment. Diabetes during pregnancy usually disappears rapidly after giving birth. The placenta is expelled and hormone production, including insulin, returns to normal. However, the mother remains at risk over time of contracting type 2 diabetes mellitus.