Diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, is associated with infertility and various pregnancy risks and complications, such as high blood pressure during pregnancy (called preeclampsia) and premature labor or childbirth. However, there are steps you can take to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.
About 10.5% of the US population as a whole has diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 10 percent of pregnant women in the United States have gestational diabetes.
Usually there are no symptoms, and the diagnosis is established with a blood sugar test. If you have gestational diabetes, your doctor will monitor you and your baby closely.
Diabetes and Fertility
Being overweight or obese, having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and other diabetes-related complications can affect your ability to conceive. This is true for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
One study observed that problems affecting ovulation were the leading cause of infertility in those with a uterus. In particular, PCOS, which is associated with type 2 diabetes, can cause this because it affects the growth and release of eggs into the fallopian tubes.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are associated with irregular or missed periods, which means your ovaries don’t release eggs on a regular basis, and can affect a person’s ability to conceive.
Is diabetes hereditary?
Diabetes can be passed on from generation to generation. However, type 2 diabetes is more genetically linked than type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes can also affect male fertility. This condition can cause nerve damage that can make it difficult to maintain an erection and make intercourse and conception more difficult. It can also cause retrograde or insufficient ejaculation, as well as sperm abnormalities such as low motility (ability to move).
Therefore, it is very important to control your blood sugar before conception as it can help reduce fertility problems and increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby.
If you and your partner are planning to become pregnant, see your doctor. They may want to adjust your treatment before you start trying.
diabetes and pregnancy
Whether diabetes develops during pregnancy or you have it before pregnancy, it can cause problems for your baby if not managed properly.
Uncontrolled diabetes is associated with many risks to you and your baby, including:
- premature birth
- high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia)
- low blood sugar (low blood sugar)
- Increased chance of caesarean section
- childbirth big baby injury
- birth defect
- miscarriage or stillbirth
If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, your blood sugar levels usually return to normal after delivery. However, up to 50% of people with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Treating diabetes before, during, and after pregnancy is necessary to mitigate any risks and complications. See your doctor early and often to spot any potential problems. Most importantly, monitor your blood sugar levels frequently and keep them under control.
You can control your blood sugar with a variety of lifestyle changes:
- Healthy Eating: Pay special attention to carbohydrate intake. Whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and low-sugar foods are great additions to your diet if you’re not already eating them.
- Regular exercise: Regular exercise can help fight insulin resistance. Check with your doctor first to make sure you can exercise safely. Then get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week. This may include brisk walking, swimming, or active play with your child.
- Take your medicines as prescribed: Keep taking insulin and medicines that help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
- Monitor blood sugar regularly: Since pregnancy increases the body’s need for energy, blood sugar levels can change rapidly. You need to check your blood sugar frequently. It’s important to learn how to adjust food intake, exercise, and insulin based on blood sugar test results.
If you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes, you may experience the following symptoms:
- urinating a lot, often at night
- very thirsty
- Lose weight without trying
- very hungry
- blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- feeling very tired
- very dry skin
- have sores that heal slowly
- more infections than usual
If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
diabetes and postpartum
impact on recovery
About 50% of people affected by gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. To reduce this risk, lifestyle changes can help.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with gestational diabetes:
- Get tested for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes at 4 to 12 weeks postpartum
- Lifetime screening at least every 3 years
Breastfeeding can have a positive effect on postpartum diabetes. Research shows that when you breastfeed, your insulin sensitivity increases and your glucose metabolism improves. However, the jury is still out on whether breastfeeding actually reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, especially after a case of gestational diabetes.
However, one study found that breastfeeding for more than two months cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly half.
If you have prediabetes, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, know that most diabetes medications, such as insulin and metformin, are safe to use while breastfeeding. However, ask your doctor about the dosage of the drug, as these dosages may need to be changed while you are breastfeeding.
Diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, can affect your ability to conceive. It can cause problems with ovulation or sperm quality. The condition has also been linked to complications such as preeclampsia and premature birth. Working closely with your healthcare team to control blood sugar levels can help reduce these complications. If you’re breastfeeding, it may actually help improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.
Whether you have had diabetes before or developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, know that you are not alone and that your condition is very common. Seeking support from your healthcare team, partners, family and friends can help reduce any stress you may be experiencing due to your condition.
Early detection and regular monitoring ensure a healthy pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum life. You have more control over your condition than you think. If you have any concerns about your specific situation, please be honest with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions or raise concerns. That’s their purpose.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I eat if I have diabetes during pregnancy?
If you develop diabetes during pregnancy, a healthy diet is essential to its management. Whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and low-sugar foods are good places to start.
How to avoid gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some ways to help potentially prevent gestational diabetes include maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
What are the signs of gestational diabetes?
Generally, gestational diabetes is asymptomatic. However, some of the signs you may be experiencing include being hungrier than usual, thirsty, urinating more, blurred vision, and weight loss.
What if you have gestational diabetes during pregnancy?
If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you must regularly monitor your blood sugar levels with a blood glucose meter and keep them within the recommended target range to avoid complications. Your medical team may also follow you more closely to monitor your condition.