About 10% of pregnant women experience gestational diabetes each year in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and studies show it’s on the rise.
Though outcomes for gestational diabetes are good, an alarming finding showed the disease could put offspring at greater risk when they grow up.
Recently published in peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, the study revealed a fetus exposed to diabetes in the womb could put the child at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes before age 30, compared to those without any exposure.
In addition, the study found exposure to diabetes in utero was tied to a faster time to development of type 2 diabetes compared to those who weren’t exposed.
“In addition to genetics, there are environmental influences that play a role in these findings,” said Dr. Katherine Wolfe, a perinatologist and director of the Diabetes and Pregnancy Program at Akron Children’s Hospital. “The obesity concern in families is a factor. When you look at families, parents and children have similar eating and exercise habits.”
The good news is catching it early in pregnancy can help lower the risk for mom and her child.
“Up to 70% of women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime,” said Dr. Wolfe. “Moms can’t reverse gestational diabetes, but they can decrease their lifetime risk through diet, exercise and education. This positive change will be family wide, therefore decreasing the risk for their children, as well.”
With careful monitoring and treatment, gestational diabetes can be managed and is highly treatable. If you’re diagnosed, your doctor will likely start you on a treatment plan aimed at getting glucose levels under control. This includes a plan to manage your nutrition, physical activity and weight gain.
You’ll need to avoid sugary, processed foods and instead, consume a well-balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
In addition, you should get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. Walking, Pilates, yoga and swimming are great sources of exercise for pregnant moms-to-be.
“Healthy nutrition and exercise will help prevent excess weight gain, and these lifestyle changes are key to help offset this study’s findings,” said Dr. Wolfe. “We can’t change genetics, so changing your environment is the most important.”