Pregnancy and diabetes: Is your body ready?

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Pregnancy and diabetes: Is your body ready?

You have diabetes and you're thinking about having a baby. You may be concerned about the risks associated with pregnancy and diabetes — but there's good news. If you control your blood sugar level and make healthy lifestyle choices, you can improve your chances of having a healthy baby.

Is your body ready for pregnancy?

Before you conceive, see your health care provider for a physical exam. Mention your interest in pregnancy. If you take oral diabetes medication, you may need to switch to insulin or make other changes to your diabetes treatment plan before you conceive. If you have high blood pressure or signs of heart, eye, nerve or kidney disease — or other diabetes complications that may be aggravated by pregnancy — you may need treatment before conception.

Your health care provider also may suggest scheduling preconception appointments with an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, a diabetes educator, a registered dietitian or other specialists.

Focus on blood sugar control

Controlling your blood sugar level is the best way to prevent diabetes complications. When it comes to pregnancy and diabetes, blood sugar control is more important than ever — even months before you conceive.

Your baby's brain, spinal cord, heart and other organs begin forming soon after conception, even before you know you're pregnant. If you have poor blood sugar control during the earliest days of pregnancy, your risk of miscarriage and your baby's risk of birth defects — particularly those affecting the brain, spinal cord and heart — increase. However, if you manage your blood sugar level before you conceive, your odds of having a trouble-free pregnancy and a healthy baby are nearly the same as if you didn't have diabetes.

Your health care provider will help you establish your target blood sugar range for now and early in pregnancy. The goal is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.

Remember healthy-eating principles

Your diabetes diet probably includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can eat the same foods as you plan for pregnancy. If you're having trouble keeping your blood sugar level in your target range or you want to lose excess pounds before pregnancy, consult a registered dietitian. He or she can help you customize your diabetes meal plan to meet your pre-pregnancy needs.

To help fill any nutritional gaps, take a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting a few months before conception.

Include physical activity in your daily routine

Physical activity is another important part of your diabetes treatment plan. During your preconception appointment, get your doctor's OK to exercise. Then choose activities you enjoy, such as walking, swimming or biking. What's most important is making physical activity part of your daily routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Stretching and strength training exercises are important, too. If you haven't been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually.

Remember that physical activity affects blood sugar. Check your blood sugar level before and after any activity, especially if you take insulin. You might need to eat a snack before exercising to help prevent low blood sugar.

Know what's off-limits

When you're planning your pregnancy, don't:

  • Skip doses of insulin
  • Smoke
  • Drink alcohol
  • Use illicit drugs

It's also important to keep stress under control. Too much stress may interfere with your blood sugar level and make it harder to take good care of yourself — and your baby.

Patience pays off

Preparing for pregnancy may take months and multiple visits to your health care provider. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends maintaining good blood sugar control for three to six months before attempting to conceive. Your health care provider may want you to reach a specific A1C level — a reflection of your blood sugar level for the past two to three months — before pregnancy.

Until your health care provider gives you the green light for pregnancy, remember to use birth control. A healthier pregnancy is worth the wait.

Last Updated: 2009-12-12
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