What are the risk factors for developing diabetes during pregnancy?

There are some women who are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. For women who have previously had diabetes during pregnancy, they are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes again.

What are the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes?

Every pregnant woman is at risk of developing gestational diabetes, so it is recommended that all pregnant women are screened using a glucose tolerance blood test at 24-28 weeks’ gestation.

There are some women who are at a much higher risk and should be screened before becoming pregnant, at 12 weeks’ gestation and again at 24-28 weeks if not previously diagnosed.

There are a number of risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing gestational diabetes. Like with type 2 diabetes, extra weight is linked to gestational diabetes. This means that women who are overweight or obese, may already have insulin resistance before they become pregnant.

High risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include:

  1. women aged 25 years or over
  2. family history of type 2 diabetes
  3. family history of gestational diabetes, especially from a first-degree relative like a mother or sister
  4. being overweight or obese
  5. had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  6. multiple pregnancies in the past
  7. have previously given birth to a large baby (weighing more than 4.5kgs)
  8. gained weight rapidly during the first trimester of pregnancy
  9. a previous diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  10. of non-Caucasian descent, including African-American, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chines, Southeast Asian, Middle Easter or Indian background

Can gestational diabetes be prevented?

Gestational diabetes is more likely to occur if a person has certain risk factors but it can also occur without any identifiable risk. Risk factors are either fixed and are unable to be changed, called non-modifiable risk factors, such as your ethnicity, age or family history.

There are some risk factors, modifiable risk factors, can be changed. These include your weight, diet, and the amount you exercise. When planning for pregnancy, adjusting these modifiable risk factors are a great place to start to help reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Some changes are around diet and weight management and is part of preparing for pregnancy.

What if I have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy?

If you have previously had gestational diabetes, there are key steps you can take to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes again.

Maintain a healthy weight

Studies have shown that a higher BMI (body mass index) as well as weight gain in between pregnancies increases a women’s risk of recurrence. Aiming for a small weight reduction prior to becoming pregnant, say 4-5 kgs, can be a significant benefit to women who have a BMI above 25kg/m2.

Eat Well and Move More

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. A diet high in non-starchy vegetables (think greens, salad veg etc.), wholegrains, legumes, lean proteins (including low fat dairy) and fruit is ideal to minimise risk of weight gain between pregnancies. Reducing intake of processed and packaged foods is a great start, as these are particularly high in sugars, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat.

Increasing activity levels, is also helpful for weight management, adding to this, resistance training can increase muscle mass and may improve insulin sensitivity. Exercise also benefits our mental wellbeing – so it’s a win-win on the activity front.

What do I do next?

If you are planning to have a baby soon, making some changes to your diet and exercising more, can help to reduce your risk for developing diabetes in pregnancy. It is also important that you are tested for gestational diabetes at 24-28 weeks gestation.

My Health Explained will soon be launching the Gestational Diabetes program. To be notified when this program will launch, head over to the Gestational Diabetes page to sign up to be notified.