Around 50% of all women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy go on to develop type 2 diabetes in later life.
This may sound discouraging; however, it is not the end of the story. You can do many things to reduce your risk and prevent type 2 diabetes.
The Link Between Gestational and Type 2 Diabetes
To understand both gestational and type 2 diabetes, it is essential to know how insulin works to maintain healthy blood sugar levels in the body. And also, what can cause insulin to be less effective.
Insulin and Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to glucose (or sugar) in the bloodstream. Insulin acts as a key to unlock the door of each cell in the body and allow glucose to enter and be used for energy.
When the body’s cells do not respond well to insulin, we call this insulin resistance. Just as the name implies, the cells resist insulin and essentially keep their doors closed to glucose. Consequently, glucose remains circulating in the bloodstream, while the cells end up short on energy.
Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
Gestational diabetes occurs when your body cannot secrete enough insulin to overcome the natural insulin resistance that develops during pregnancy.
Every woman experiences insulin resistance, especially later in pregnancy, but for some women, the pancreas cannot keep up and maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes occurs in much the same way as gestational diabetes. However, instead of pregnancy causing insulin resistance, insulin resistance occurs gradually through a combination of factors including genetics, body weight, and activity levels.
Having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and if you think about it, it makes sense. If your pancreas could not keep up with the higher insulin demand during pregnancy, the same could be true if you develop insulin resistance later on.
Decreasing Insulin Resistance
You can’t change that you have gestational diabetes, but you can make choices moving forward that will lower your risk of being insulin resistant after your pregnancy ends.
- The first and most important thing you should do is manage your gestational diabetes well. Get your blood glucose levels under control not only to protect your baby and have a healthy pregnancy but also to place less strain on your pancreas. Work closely with your healthcare team on a comprehensive gestational diabetes management plan.
- After you give birth, consider breastfeeding. Breastfeeding makes your cells more sensitive to insulin and has a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes.
- Maintain a healthy body weight after pregnancy by choosing a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise. Carrying excess weight is considered one of the primary risk factors for insulin resistance. Making good lifestyle choices can mean the difference between insulin-sensitive cells and insulin resistance.
Gestational Diabetes Doesn’t Have to Lead to Type 2 Diabetes
You are not powerless when it comes to managing your risk. You can make many healthy lifestyle choices to lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Just like you are managing your gestational diabetes, you can keep your healthy efforts going after your pregnancy and influence your health for the better.
Talk with your healthcare team about your risk and work together to make a plan that will keep you healthy and diabetes-free.