Break the cycle of type 2 and gestational diabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus you’re at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. That doesn’t mean it’s a certainty.

It means that you may have an opportunity to change that scenario. Not just for yourself, but also for your baby. A baby exposed to high blood glucose levels during pregnancy and is large at birth is also at risk of developing health concerns such as obesity, early puberty and type 2 diabetes.

If a woman gains excess weight before her pregnancy, this increases her chances of developing gestational diabetes and exposing her baby to the effects of excess weight and high blood glucose levels.

Steps towards change

This cycle of diabetes from one generation to the next can be changed.

  • Managing your diabetes well during pregnancy is a good start. You could also arrange with your doctor a preconception diabetes pathology check. Alternatively, diabetes can be checked early in your next pregnancy. Having gestational diabetes increases the chances of it occurring in your next pregnancy.
  • Detecting diabetes means that you have an opportunity to reduce baby’s exposure to high blood glucose levels. Whether that occurs before a pregnancy or early in a pregnancy, it’s an opportunity to work with your health care team to achieve this aim.
  • Aiming to prevent gestational diabetes in future pregnancies may also be an option for you. Research has shown that you increase your chances of developing gestational diabetes in a future pregnancy as you increase your body weight. However, by achieving a healthy weight before pregnancy you can reduce the chances of developing gestational diabetes.
  • Consider breastfeeding your baby. Breastmilk offers a wide range of benefits to both mother and child. It is for this reason that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that all women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. For you, even three months of providing breastmilk to baby could delay or prevent your development of type 2 diabetes. For baby, you may help to reduce overweight. Of course, there are other ways to encourage your child to grow within a healthy weight range. This includes providing healthy foods in moderate portions, encouraging daily physical activity and limiting screen time.
  • Seek help from your medical team, family, friends and community programs and services. A pregnancy with diabetes requires more contact with your medical team to check that your pregnancy is as expected and to offer support when needed. To continue the lifestyle changes that you know worked during your previous pregnancy, you may need support from family and friends. Community programs can also help you maintain these healthy lifestyle choices. My health for life is one such program which helps with goal setting and making lifestyle changes. If there are areas of your parenting that you’d like to change or develop, your family doctor, paediatrician or child health nurse is available. There are positive parenting programs that could help you understand baby and how to encourage his or hers social, physical and emotional development.

To break this cycle of diabetes between one generation to the next requires time, effort and assistance. For some women, it is possible.

By Amanda Callaghan RN RM CDE

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