Pregnancy and diabetes: Why lifestyle counts

Pregnancy and diabetes presents unique challenges. Consider the goal — tight blood sugar control — and what you can do to achieve it.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When you have diabetes — either type 1 or type 2 — pregnancy presents unique challenges. Naturally, you're concerned about the effect diabetes might have on your health and your baby's health. There's much you can do to promote a healthy pregnancy, however. Here's what you need to know about pregnancy and diabetes — and delivering a healthy baby.

Pregnancy and diabetes: Your health care team

Your diabetes health care team likely includes an endocrinologist or other diabetes specialist, a diabetes educator and a registered dietitian. As your pregnancy progresses, your health care team can help you manage your blood sugar level and adjust your diabetes treatment plan as needed.

During pregnancy, you might need to consult other specialists, including:

  • An obstetrician. Choose an obstetrician who handles high-risk pregnancies and has cared for other pregnant women with diabetes. Your obstetrician will carefully monitor your health and your baby's health throughout the pregnancy.
  • An eye specialist. An eye specialist can monitor diabetes-related damage to the small blood vessels in your eyes, which can progress during pregnancy.
  • A pediatrician. You might also want to establish a relationship with the doctor who will care for your baby after he or she is born.

The goal: Tight blood sugar control

Controlling your blood sugar level before and during pregnancy is the best way to prevent diabetes complications. Good blood sugar control during pregnancy can:

  • Reduce the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Good blood sugar control reduces the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth — primary concerns for pregnancy and diabetes.
  • Reduce the risk of premature birth. The better your blood sugar control, the less likely you are to go into preterm labor.
  • Reduce the risk of birth defects. Good blood sugar control during early pregnancy greatly reduces your baby's risk of birth defects, particularly those affecting the brain, spine and heart.
  • Reduce the risk of excess fetal growth. If you have poor blood sugar control, extra glucose can cross the placenta. This triggers your baby's pancreas to make extra insulin, which can cause your baby to grow too large (macrosomia). A large baby makes vaginal delivery difficult and puts the baby at risk of injury during birth.
  • Prevent complications for mom. Good blood sugar control reduces the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia — which is high blood pressure that begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy — and other potentially serious pregnancy complications.
  • Prevent complications for baby. Sometimes babies of mothers who have diabetes develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth because their own insulin production is too high. Good blood sugar control can help promote a healthy blood sugar level for your baby, as well as healthy levels of calcium and magnesium in the blood. Good blood sugar control also helps prevent a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice) after birth.
Dec. 16, 2014 See more In-depth