If you have diabetes — either type 1 or type 2 — and you're thinking about having a baby, you might be concerned about the risks. To put your mind at ease, start preparing. Controlling your blood sugar level and making healthy lifestyle choices before pregnancy can help you give your baby the healthiest start.
The first step in preparing for pregnancy is to talk to your health care provider.
He or she might recommend:
- Changing medications. If you take oral diabetes medication, you might need to switch to a medication that is safer for use in pregnancy or make other changes to your diabetes treatment plan before you conceive. If you also have high blood pressure (hypertension), your blood pressure medications will need to be reviewed. Certain medications to treat high blood pressure — aren't recommended during pregnancy.
- Treatment for certain conditions. If you have high blood pressure or signs of heart, eye, nerve or kidney disease — or other diabetes complications that could be aggravated by pregnancy — preparing for pregnancy might include treatment for the condition before conception.
- Consulting with specialists. Your health care provider might suggest scheduling preconception appointments with an obstetrician, a diabetes educator, a registered dietitian or other specialists.
Controlling your blood sugar level is the best way to prevent diabetes complications. When you're preparing for pregnancy, blood sugar control is more important than ever. Your health care provider might want you to reach a specific hemoglobin A1C level — a reflection of your blood sugar level for the past two to three months — before pregnancy.
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.
Your health care provider will help you establish your target blood sugar range. He or she will also evaluate your diabetes treatment plan and consider any changes that might be needed to improve it. The goal is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as safely possible.
Your diabetes diet probably includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can eat the same foods while you're preparing 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 get the recommended amount of vitamins, especially folic acid, take prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid — ideally starting a few months before conception.
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 stationary biking, and make them part of your daily routine.
Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity — based on the Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. 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. If you're using an insulin pump, you might need to adjust the basal rate for exercise.
When you're preparing for pregnancy, try to keep stress under control. Too much stress can interfere with your blood sugar level and make it harder to take good care of yourself — and your baby.
Until your health care provider gives you the green light for pregnancy, remember to use a reliable method of birth control. A healthy pregnancy is worth the wait.