If you have diabetes in pregnancy, one of the things you’re probably wondering is what effect high blood sugar has on the baby. I have five answers to that. Let’s dig in.
One: Their blood sugars may go down after being born
A fetus’s blood sugar is close to whatever mom’s blood sugar level is at any given time. If the baby is getting more than enough glucose from you, then when the cord is clamped and cut at delivery, their blood sugars may go down because they’re not getting glucose from you anymore, but they are still making extra insulin. This can be a problem in the newborn period.
You’ll be asked to feed your baby soon after delivery. The baby’s going to need some source of glucose very shortly after delivery to keep the blood sugars from going down.
Your elevated blood sugars are also making the baby’s blood sugars high. In the last few weeks leading up to delivery, it’s important to keep your blood sugars solid so that the baby’s blood sugars don’t fall right after delivery.
Two: Babies may grow bigger when moms have high blood sugar
The second thing to remember is that babies can grow bigger when moms have high blood sugar. If your sugars are high, the baby will be getting extra sugar from you. When their glucoses are elevated, they make more insulin. Insulin and other hormones promote fat deposition. In the same way that you gain weight when you eat too many calories or carbs, your baby will start to put on weight.
The head is supposed to be the biggest part of a baby, and it’s supposed to come out first so that the rest of the body just slides right out. If your blood sugars are high, then the baby’s blood sugars will also be high and they tend to put on more weight through the shoulders and abdomen. The head may not be the biggest part of the baby anymore. Sometimes the head comes out and then the shoulders and abdomen don’t want to come out. That’s a condition called shoulder dystocia. This is terrifying for your provider and for you because those few extra seconds that it may take to deliver the baby feel like years. While that’s happening, the baby’s not getting any blood flow or oxygen.
So we want the head to stay the biggest part of the baby.
Three: Babies are more likely to have birth injuries
The third effect that your high blood sugar can have on the baby is an increased risk of birth injuries. When babies are born big, the shoulders can have a difficult time delivering. When that happens, they can have shoulder injuries. Most of the time, these are temporary, but sometimes they can cause lasting damage.
Four: Increased risk of childhood metabolic disorders and obesity
The fourth effect that your high blood sugar can have on your baby involves the baby’s childhood risk of metabolic disorders and obesity. Children of diabetic mothers tend to have a higher risk of obesity and developing diabetes themselves. Lifestyle factors may play a role. Moms that don’t eat well can teach those habits to their children. Then children are more likely to grow up with poor nutritional habits.
But even if you feed your children perfectly after delivery, your blood sugars during the pregnancy can have a lasting effect on the baby’s metabolism and their risk of becoming diabetic, starting in childhood.
Five: Increased risk of stillbirth
The last complication is the most serious one and the hardest one for many of us to talk about.
If your glucoses are not well controlled in pregnancy and your baby’s growing bigger, or your glucoses are bouncing around going from very high to very low, there’s an increased risk of stillbirth. And that means losing your baby. The closer you get to your due date and the longer your glucoses are uncontrolled, the higher this risk becomes. Fortunately, stillbirth is a rare event, but I don’t want this to happen to you.
You can see that having high blood sugar in pregnancy has an effect on your baby, not just now, but sometimes all through childhood and even lifelong.
When you have diabetes in pregnancy, it’s so important for you to follow your diet, have regular check-ins with your provider, and keep your glucoses under the best control possible.
No need to go it alone or feel ashamed or scared
You might be feeling shocked, ashamed, or scared that you won’t be able to to change your diet enough to make a difference for you and your baby. But the truth is you are not alone. In my daily practice, I’ve worked with hundreds of women just like you who are trying to conquer gestational diabetes. And I know what it takes.
I’m excited to announce that I’m introducing a course in September called “Conquering Diabetes In Pregnancy”. This course has a ton of information about diet and exercise, with downloadable diet forms, and all kinds of things that are going to help you manage your diabetes in pregnancy.
And don’t forget I’ve got a brand new free printable PDF checklist looking at four different diets that help with gestational diabetes, so you can get started conquering diabetes right now. And when you subscribe, you’ll be the first to know when the course comes out. There’s no need to worry. You’ve got this! Stick with me and I will show you how.