Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), or Gestational Diabetes is defined as a form of high blood sugar affecting pregnant women. Gestational Diabetes is typically tested for at 24 – 28 weeks gestation. Pregnancy, also known as gestation, is the time during which one or more offspring (the young ones of living organisms) develop inside you. 

GDM leads to complications in both you and your child and is almost cured after childbirth (delivery of your baby). Pregnancy (lasts for about 40 weeks) is divided into 3 primary segments or trimesters:

  • 1st trimester: Week 1 to the end of week 12 

  • 2nd trimester: Week 13 to the end of week 26 

  • 3rd trimester: Week 27 till the end of your pregnancy

What Happens in GDM

Insulin is a hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels and is responsible for moving glucose from your blood to your body cells for energy. During pregnancy, your body naturally becomes slightly insulin resistant (a condition in which your body does not produce enough insulin or use insulin effectively), so that more glucose is available in your bloodstream to be used by your baby. 

As a result of insulin resistance, high glucose (sugar) is present in your blood and causes gestational diabetes. 

Management of GDM through Exercises

The key is to control your blood sugar levels from the time you have been diagnosed with diabetes during your pregnancy. And what better way to do this than exercising!

Exercise is one of the highly recommended treatments or management options for women with GDM.

Exercise helps to lay off extra glucose from the blood, decrease insulin resistance, and reduce the dose of medications. It keeps your body fit and healthy. At least 20-30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day is recommended all throughout your pregnancy, even in the third trimester.

It is advisable to consult your obstetrician before starting any exercise regime to make sure the intended exercises are safe and easy to perform. Do not exert yourself or do any strenuous exercises as it can affect your baby’s and your health. 

Here are 5 simple rules to remember while you exercise during pregnancy when diagnosed with GDM:

1. Start slowly and steadily. Don’t start exercising heavily from the first day or for a long duration. Start with minimal stretching exercise for 10 minutes per day, and then gradually increase to a maximum of 30 minutes of exercise per day. Ask your doctor for further advice on how to adopt a skill-full exercise regimen in pregnancy to burn out your calories.

2. Take care of your abdomen. Don’t do any exercises which may hurt your baby or your body. Walking, stationary cycling, doing house-hold chores, yoga, and meditation work well for a pregnant woman.  

Performing kegel exercises during your pregnancy can serve a two-fold purpose: it is good for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles and will also help in reducing blood glucose levels. 

  • Kegel or pelvic floor muscles are the muscles present in your vaginal region that play an important role during childbirth. 

  • Doing about five sets of kegel exercises each day is recommended. Check with your doctor what exercises can you do and if you need any additional precautions while performing them.

3. Check your blood sugar regularly. Exercise may decrease your blood sugar especially if you are taking insulin (usually in the form of injections) for controlling your blood glucose. Use a glucometer (a portable blood glucose meter) before or after exercise to monitor your sugar levels. 

If you feel dizzy or faint after your exercise regime, take lozenges, candy, sweet, or any carbohydrate-containing material for immediate relief. Consult your doctor for further advice. Don’t indulge in any exhaustive session which will make you breathless or too-tired.

4. Stop exercising if you are facing recurrent problems. If you feel any discomfort (like abdominal pain, water coming out of the vagina, feeling sick, nausea-vomiting, muscle pain, shortness of breath, sweating, palpitation (faster heartbeats), etc.) while exercising, stop immediately and seek immediate medical advice. Exercise with extreme caution during the advanced stages (the third trimester) of your pregnancy.

5. Don’t take heavy meals or insulin just before or after exercise. Eat light snacks such as yogurt with nuts, smoothies, sandwiches, or whole cereals with milk, before and after exercise.

Take note that physical activity or exercises can lower your blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after your workout, thus making your body more sensitive to insulin. Checking your blood sugar level more often before and after exercise can help you see the benefits of the activity. 

If you are taking insulin for GDM, understand well from your doctor as to what time to take insulin, how much time gap you have to maintain before and after exercise and what’s the dose to take before and after your exercise, if any. 

More Points to Remember

1. Monitoring your blood sugar levels after exercise. Strenuous exercise can raise blood glucose levels in the short term. However, your blood sugar levels should come down, shortly after exercise, unless you have high-intensity workouts in a very short time. 

Test your blood glucose levels regularly before and after you exercise to understand the effect of exercise on your body. If you have high blood glucose levels after exercising, decrease the intensity of the exercise next time, and maybe increase the duration.

2. Know the risks of hypoglycemia. Universally, moderate exercise does not raise blood glucose levels, it lowers them. If you are taking insulin, prolonged moderate exercise can cause hypoglycemia (a condition in which your blood sugar (glucose) level is lower than normal). Hypoglycemia can cause fainting, fatigue, light-headedness and can prove to be dangerous for your baby and you. 

Discuss with your doctor the duration and intensity of your daily exercise routine to avoid hypoglycemia.

To summarize, exercises are a great way to stay healthy during your pregnancy, whether or not you are diagnosed with GDM. An individualized approach for treating GDM is advisable, so consult your obstetrician to know the type and duration of exercise required for you during pregnancy. Seek medical advice promptly and immediately in case of any problems encountered during exercising. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.