Gestational diabetes: how it affects you long after you deliver
You managed to chug down that super sweet sugary drink sometime around 28 weeks of pregnancy and found out that yes, you have gestational diabetes. You managed it in pregnancy (either with diet or medications), took a test a few weeks after you had your baby (more yucky stuff to drink!), and happily found out it was completely resolved.
Think you are done dealing with gestational diabetes? Unfortunately, you are not out of the woods yet.
The sad fact is that up to 50 percent of women who ever had a pregnancy complicated by gestational diabetes will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with a lot of medical complications, including increased rates of heart disease, eye problems, infections, obesity, and shortened life span.
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that women who had gestational diabetes in the past had worse diets after they had their babies. For example, they ate fewer fruits and vegetables. This is dangerous since this group of women is already at such an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes as they age. Eating a poor diet only makes this possibility more of a reality.
We know that a healthy diet, when combined with a more active lifestyle, can help a woman avoid Type 2 diabetes completely or at the very least delay its onset. Therefore, this study shows that this high-risk group of women is heading in exactly the wrong direction when caring for their health!
So what can we do to turn the tide? For one, I think women need better education about what gestational diabetes really means. In pregnancy, we focus so much on that current pregnancy and why managing blood sugar is so important for the baby. Then the baby arrives and very little is said afterwards about it again. In fact, many women never get that postpartum glucose screen to make sure their diabetes has resolved. For a lot of women, it’s because their doctor or midwife never really emphasized it or followed up.
It’s more than just taking that postpartum test, though. In an ideal world, all women who had gestational diabetes would have a postpartum visit with a nutritionist to discuss future diabetes risks. Education about a healthy diet and how important exercise is would be reviewed, and all this would be passed along to primary care providers, so they know to continue to follow diet and activity levels more closely. They would also know that they needed to screen these women for Type 2 diabetes earlier than most women, as well as more frequently.
Unfortunately, our world is not perfect. So if you find yourself with a current or past diagnosis of gestational diabetes, take action: talk with your doctor about when and how often to screen for diabetes and what you can do to prevent it. Find ways to eat healthy, get more fruits and veggies into your diet, and be active. Think of this as the continuing management of your gestational diabetes, so you can be around a long time to watch that beautiful baby you delivered grow up.