Benefits of Exercise for Women with Gestational Diabetes
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (GD) is impaired glucose tolerance that occurs in women during pregnancy. GD affects between 2-14% of pregnant women (one third of cases go undiagnosed)       and is the most common metabolic complication of pregnancy  . GD generally resolves after the pregnancy has ended however approximately 50% of women who have had GD will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years of their GD diagnosis  .
Risk Factors for Developing GD
While there are several theories as to what causes GD the strongest scientific link to the cause of GD is a mother’s weight status before and during pregnancy  . High BMI prior to pregnancy (>25)  and excessive weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk of developing GD . Other risk factors include family history of diabetes, previous delivery of a large baby, diet and lifestyle factors (inactivity and poor diet), smoking, some medications, women of short stature, older age of mother (35+), amount and timeframe of previous pregnancies (short periods between pregnancies), ethnicity (Women of Asian, African and Hispanic decent have and increased risk of developing GD)     .
Maternal Complications from GD
Complications to the mother from GD are similar to other forms of diabetes that include: 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes 5 years post pregnancy  , miscarriage, caesarean section (due to large baby), preterm delivery, hypertension, preeclampsia (Pregnancy induced hypertension and fluid retention), hypoglycaemia (Low blood glucose), postpartum maternal haemorrhage, increased risk of maternal infection postpartum, increased risk of thrombosis (blood clot) postpartum, stillbirth   .
Fetal Complications from GD
Complications of GD to the fetus include: birth injuries due to large birth weight (particularly shoulder dystocia), fetal distress, macrosomia (abnormally large birthweight), stillbirth, post-birth the baby is at risk of developing hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar effects up to 30% of infants), hypothermia, hypocalcaemia and transient cardiomyopathy, increased risk of childhood obesity, memory deficits in childhood, low birthweight (due to vascular disease associated with diabetes), glucose intolerance, increase chance of developing diabetes later in life    .
Exercise Recommendations During Pregnancy
To reduce the risk of adverse effects from GD it is important to effectively manage the disease through exercise . Prior to undertaking any exercise program it is essential to be screened by your doctor . Exercise should not be undertaken if you are unwell, have an infection, your blood glucose is below 6mmol/L or above 10mmol/L  or are experiencing symptoms of weakness, dizziness, sweating or fainting . During exercise it is important to:
- Have a carbohydrate rich snack with you at all times
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise
- Carry medical ID tags
- Wear good shoes and clean socks to prevent injury and infection
- Avoid jarring and strenuous exercises
- Avoid activity where head is facing downwards
Moderate intensity exercise should be undertaken in 20-60min bouts 4-7 days per week. Some of the exercise can include:
- Low-resistance strength exercise with high repetitions
- Brisk walking
- Tai chi
- Some flexibility exercises like yoga 2 times per week
You can also ensure exercise is part of your daily routine by undertaking household activity in 10 minute bouts 3 times a day like:
- Carrying groceries
Further Reading/Information Sources
- Diabetes Australia – Gestational Diabetes
- Diabetes Australia – Gestational Diabetes Keeping Active
- Exercise in Pregnancy
- Health Insite – Exercise and Pregnancy
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