If you’ve already been tested for gestational diabetes, you can probably still taste the hopped-up sugar liquid you had to guzzle at the lab — as if someone mixed Kool-Aid with Mountain Dew, then made it even sweeter. And, of course, you have to drink the entire bottle to ensure your test results will be accurate. As unpleasant as it is, getting it over with is worth doing for you and your baby.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a form of diabetes unique to pregnancy, and may affect up to 10% of soon-to-be mothers. Often free of symptoms, untreated GDM can lead to serious health consequences, including higher risk of preterm birth, so early detection and management is important. After you’ve delivered, GDM usually resolves on its own. But, while you’re still pregnant, there are several things that you can do to help manage your blood sugar and help keep you and your baby safe —and exercise is often at the top of that list.
Why Gestational Diabetes is So Common
GDM is the most common medical complication in pregnancy. As your placenta develops, it produces a hormone that helps support your growing fetus, but that same hormone can contribute to insulin-resistance. Insulin resistance makes it harder for your body to manage your blood sugar levels and, over time, can lead to the development of GDM. Certain factors can leave you predisposed to developing GDM, including being pregnant past the age of 35 and having a family history of type 2 diabetes.
Balancing Your Blood Sugar Through Pregnancy
If you’re diagnosed with GDM, it’s important to make a plan with your primary care provider to manage your blood sugar. You’ll want to monitor your blood sugar levels throughout the remainder of your pregnancy, and you may be placed on medications to help you along the way. Ideally, you’ll also work with a nutritionist who can help you lower your intake of sugar and other carbs, plus a physical therapist to guide you in exercising safely.
Exercise is important in helping to control your blood sugar, manage weight gain, and improve insulin resistance in pregnancy. A systematic review of studies found that a weekly exercise routine that includes cardio and strength training is beneficial for both prevention and treatment of GDM. But knowing where to start, and what’s safe for your baby, can be confusing.
The Incredibly Positive Impact of Prenatal Exercise
It’s common to think that exercising while pregnant could put your baby at risk, but that’s rarely the case. Tennis champion Serena Williams and Olympian volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings both competed — and won — while pregnant, reminding us of just how athletic the pregnant body can be. And a wealth of research on prenatal exercise has shown that it’s not only safe, it’s associated with healthier outcomes through pregnancy and postpartum. Staying active, it turns out, is one of the most reliable ways to keep yourself and your baby happy and healthy.
That said, every pregnant body is different. Depending on how you’re feeling and moving, certain exercises may not be right for you. Bringing a pelvic floor physical therapist onto your team will take the guesswork out of exercise. Pelvic floor physical therapists can also help you prep your body for childbirth. They’ll coach you in perineal massage and pushing effectively, which can reduce risk of tearing and even shorten your time in labor.
“Having a physical therapist guiding and supporting you each week can make managing gestational diabetes easier,” explains Origin’s Dr. Ashley Rawlins. “Your PT will help you stay active, prevent and address aches, and keep an eye on many other factors, big and small, that can affect your pregnancy.” While it may feel overwhelming to be diagnosed with GDM, early detection and the right support will keep you on track to a smooth delivery day.