Diabetes in Pregnancy Loss

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When humans eat, foods are broken down in the digestive tract into the simplest elements, including glucose (a type of sugar). Glucose is a needed fuel for almost every process in the human body, including brain function.

For the body to use glucose as energy, it requires a hormone known as insulin, produced by an organ called the pancreas. In diabetes, a person’s insulin supply is insufficient, making it impossible for the body to get and use the energy it needs from glucose.

Types of Diabetes

There are several different types of diabetes. Diabetes may develop in childhood, as a person ages, or during pregnancy. Management depends on the type of diabetes you have.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or IDDM) is a chronic, often life-long condition in which the pancreas does not produce insulin. The exact causes of the disease are unknown, but it is clear that the immune system is somehow triggered to begin attacking the pancreas. It is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults.

The common symptoms are fatigue, extreme thirst and hunger, excessive urination, and weight loss. This type of diabetes requires a person to receive insulin through multiple injections each day or a continuous pump. Unfortunately, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the body's cells develop insulin resistance, even when the pancreas can produce enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes (also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or NIDDM) is most common in adults, but it can develop in children. It is usually triggered by obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, age, and genetic predisposition.

Some people are more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes including:

  • People with a family history of the disease
  • People of African-American, Native American, Asian-American, Latino, and Pacific Islander heritage
  • People who have had gestational diabetes

The symptoms are similar to type 1 diabetes. Treatment can vary from nutritional changes and increased exercise to taking oral medications and insulin injections. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but some people can control the condition without medical treatment outside of lifestyle changes.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) only occurs during pregnancy. Like type 2 diabetes, in gestational diabetes, the body cannot effectively use the supply of insulin produced by the pancreas. Nearly all pregnant people have some impairment of their ability to use glucose effectively due to the natural hormonal changes of pregnancy, but not all will develop gestational diabetes.

Only about 2 to 10% of pregnant people will develop GDM. The risk factors are similar to those for type 2 diabetes but also include:

  • History of high blood pressure
  • Previous delivery of a large baby (greater than 8 pounds, 5 ounces)
  • Being over 35 at the time of pregnancy

GDM can be treated with diet changes but may require insulin injections if you cannot control blood sugars through diet alone.

Affect of Diabetes on Pregnancy

Since the entire body is fueled by glucose, insulin is crucial to the proper functioning of all body systems. Poorly controlled blood sugar can lead to many complications in pregnancy for both a pregnant person and their baby.

  • Polyhydramnios: People with diabetes are more likely to experience having too much amniotic fluid.
  • Hypertension: Known more commonly as high blood pressure, hypertension can lead to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), stillbirth, and may require preterm delivery, which carries its own risks for the baby.
  • Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR): IUGR tends to occur due to hypertension, which can develop in people who have diabetes during pregnancy. However, it also can be caused by vascular disease, usually in people with type 1 diabetes who don't have high blood pressure. It is a risk factor for many medical complications for babies after birth. Low birth weight is also a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.
  • Birth Defects: Infants born to people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing congenital abnormalities, such as heart defects and neural tube defects.
  • Miscarriage: People with diabetes are at increased risk for miscarriage.
  • Macrosomia (or Excess Birth Weight): When a newborn weighs above average (usually more than 9 pounds, 4 ounces, or above the 90th percentile for expected size for gestational age), it is called macrosomia. Large infants are at risk for complications in delivery like shoulder dystocia and may lead to the need to be delivered via cesarean section.
  • Preterm Delivery: People with diabetes are at risk for preterm delivery. Infants born before 37 weeks gestational age are at risk for feeding and breathing difficulties, long-term medical problems, and death.
  • Stillbirth: While people with diabetes have an increased risk of stillbirth, good blood sugar control virtually eliminates this risk.

Management

If you've been diagnosed with diabetes before you're even pregnant, it's important to involve your doctor before you begin trying to conceive. To prevent various pregnancy complications, your doctor will likely want to perform various blood tests to check your hemoglobin and cholesterol levels and evaluate you for any heart, kidney, or liver problems.

The better controlled your blood sugar is during pregnancy, the better chance you have for a healthy, normal pregnancy. Therefore, it is crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions as carefully as possible. In addition, a person's insulin needs change throughout pregnancy, so you should notify your doctor if you notice a pattern of change in your blood sugar readings.

Prenatal care is essential for every pregnant person, but if you have diabetes it is especially important. In addition, you will require help managing your blood sugar monitoring and medication regimen.

Blood Sugar Monitoring

Pregnant people with diabetes are expected to check their blood sugar multiple times a day to determine how well their diet and medication regimen are controlling their blood sugar. Monitoring is done with a special machine and requires you to prick your finger or forearm (depending on your monitor) to obtain a small drop of blood.

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, your doctor will instruct you on using your monitor.

Medications and Insulin

While some people with type 2 diabetes can use oral medications to control their blood sugar while not pregnant, not all oral medications are safe in pregnancy. Insulin injections offer the best and most precise control of blood sugar during pregnancy.

Even those using insulin before pregnancy will require a new regimen to manage their blood sugar while pregnant. Therefore, it is important to follow your diabetes medication instructions carefully.

Nutrition

Following a diabetes diet during pregnancy is one of the most important ways to manage your blood sugar. Whether you are newly diagnosed with gestational diabetes, or you’ve been living with type 1 diabetes your whole life, meeting with a nutritionist can help you learn how to make the right food decisions while you’re “eating for two.”

Diagnostic Testing

Since people with diabetes are at risk for so many complications in pregnancy, they require more prenatal testing. You may have some or all of the following:

Risks

Due to the risks associated with diabetes in pregnancy, you should be aware of the following warning signs. Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following or have any other questions or concerns.

When to Call Your Doctor

  • A gush of clear fluid from the vagina
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Frequent painful contractions
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe headache that is not relieved by Tylenol
  • Symptoms of high blood sugar: excessive thirst, increased urination, dry mouth, nausea/vomiting, confusion, rapid breathing, fruity-smelling breath, unconsciousness. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can result in coma and death.
  • Symptoms of low blood sugar: dizziness, sweating, shaking, tingling of the lips or tongue, racing heart, confusion, difficulty speaking. If low blood sugar goes untreated, it can result in unconsciousness, coma, or even death.
  • Vaginal bleeding that is heavy like a menstrual period

A Word From Verywell

It's crucial to keep your doctor informed of your diabetes symptoms and any blood sugar changes during pregnancy. Involving them in your pre-pregnancy journey is important, too, especially if you already have diabetes.

Visit your doctor for preconception counseling. This can help to ensure your diabetes is controlled well enough to allow your body to sustain a pregnancy with as few risks as possible for both you and your baby.

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10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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