A pregnant woman chops vegetables alongside a man cooking at the stove.

As a mother-to-be or new mother, receiving a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can be overwhelming. By definition, gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy. While all forms of diabetes involve elevated blood sugar levels, gestational diabetes specifically affects pregnant women who have never had diabetes before. Fortunately, a large body of trusted scientific research in this area includes best practices for exercise to prevent diabetes and healthy (and delicious) diets to prevent gestational diabetes. This Family Creations article provides an overview of these topics and is not intended to be medical advice. Readers are encouraged to speak directly with their physician or OB/GYN.

Understanding how to prevent gestational diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes occurs when pregnant women who have never had diabetes experience high blood glucose levels during pregnancy.  An analysis in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%. Women who are black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian have a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes. Because of these elevated risk levels, understanding how to prevent gestational diabetes is vitally important to all women who are currently pregnant or may be considering becoming pregnant.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Your pancreas does a great job of balancing blood glucose, or sugar, by producing insulin. However, your body works differently to benefit the growing baby when you’re pregnant. During pregnancy, the placenta creates an abundance of hormones that cause your body to resist insulin. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot be converted to energy when leaving the bloodstream. This lack of conversion causes the pancreas to produce more insulin, sometimes three times the average amount. If the body can’t keep up with the increased amount of insulin, the result is gestational diabetes. Knowing what causes this health condition helps to alleviate some of the fear, but learning how to prevent gestational diabetes can ensure that your body stays in balance throughout your pregnancy.

Photo of insulin syringes and a diabetes blood glucose monitor

How does a doctor diagnose gestational diabetes?

Your doctor will often order a glucose screening as general prenatal care. This simple screening is recommended for pregnant women between 24 and 28 weeks. The doctor’s office or lab will give you a syrupy glucose drink containing approximately 50 grams of glucose and provide specific instructions explaining how to consume the drink and when to get your blood drawn. If your test comes back with a high level, the doctor will order a three-hour Glucose Tolerance Test to help determine if you have gestational diabetes. 

How to prevent gestational diabetes from harming your baby

Fortunately, your doctor and a registered dietician can offer advice on exercise to prevent diabetes and healthy diets to prevent gestational diabetes from negatively impacting your health and your baby’s. If you are diagnosed with this common condition, your healthcare professional will closely monitor you to ensure optimal health for both of you.

The risks associated with untreated or poorly managed gestational diabetes are serious. If left uncontrolled, high blood sugar levels may lead to complications like high blood pressure in the mother or congenital disabilities impacting the heart or central nervous system in the unborn child. These babies are also at a higher risk of becoming overweight and developing type 2 diabetes as they grow up.

The best diet to prevent gestational diabetes

One of the critical factors in managing gestational diabetes is following a healthy and balanced diet. Some of the best advice for preventing gestational diabetes is to pursue a well-planned diet. Wholesome, nutrient-rich foods can help control blood sugar levels, maintain optimal weight gain during pregnancy, and ensure the overall health of both mother and baby.

When managing gestational diabetes through diet, focusing on making nutritious food choices low in refined carbohydrates and added sugars is essential. Adding whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats into meals can provide a steady release of energy while keeping blood sugar levels stable.

It’s important to note that there isn’t one fixed diet to prevent gestational diabetes. For example, for pregnant women who are vegetarians/vegans, lean protein can include fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon), tofu, or tempeh. 

A pregnant woman does strength training exercises to prevent diabetes

Using exercise to prevent diabetes in pregnant women

Exercise is a crucial component in understanding how to prevent gestational diabetes. Regular physical activity helps control blood sugar levels and improves well-being during pregnancy. Be sure to speak with your doctor or OB/GYN before starting any exercise program to get advice tailored to your specific health needs. The information provided below is designed to be a general guide for pregnant women wanting to use exercise to prevent diabetes.

First, choose low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, stationary biking, or prenatal yoga. When engaging in any exercise, always start with a warm-up session to prepare your muscles and joints for physical activity. Gentle stretching exercises can help prevent injuries and enhance flexibility.

In addition to low-impact exercise to prevent diabetes, strength training can further support healthy glucose metabolism and improve muscle tone. Pregnant women can use resistance bands or light weights under supervision from a qualified healthcare professional or certified trainer.

Finally, the best strategy for preventing gestational diabetes through exercise is to aim for 150 minutes each week spread out over several days. Breaking down this recommended duration into manageable chunks throughout the week and day makes it much more achievable for busy moms-to-be.

Family Creations Can Help

At Family Creations, we work closely with our gestational surrogates and their healthcare providers to provide information about how to prevent gestational diabetes. With over 15 years of experience in egg donation and surrogacy, we have an extensive network of professionals knowledgeable about the best practices for exercise to prevent diabetes in pregnant women and healthy diets to prevent gestational diabetes. Contact us to learn more and connect with an advisor.

by Julia McConnell | Last updated on : January 29, 2024