During the months of your pregnancy, your body is changing like never before. Shifting hormones, a growing baby, and the strain it puts on your body can sometimes make it hard to maintain your pre-pregnancy health. When this balance is disrupted some women develop gestational diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure) even when these have not been issues in the past. Often these conditions disappear once your baby is delivered, but they have the potential to be serious and should not be ignored.
Gestational diabetes is when you have high blood sugar levels during your pregnancy. It’s considered to be gestational, or pregnancy related, if you didn’t have high blood sugar levels before you became pregnant. One of the reasons this happens is that when you’re pregnant, your placenta, which is a flat organ that connects and nourishes your baby through the umbilical cord, produces high levels of a hormone called human placental lactogen (HPL). The placenta produces HPL, which is similar to growth hormone, so that maternal blood glucose levels rise to give the baby the nutrients that it needs to grow. Those hormones interfere with the actions of insulin, which is a hormone produced by your pancreas to usher the sugar in your blood into your cells. When the action of insulin is suppressed, the levels of sugar in your blood rises. This change in the mother’s body causes carbohydrates and lipids to be processed differently. If you’re eating a lot of carbohydrates and your insulin sensitivity drops quite low, you may be at risk for gestational diabetes. It is normal for a pregnant woman’s blood sugar levels to rise a little but we don’t want it rising too high.
Gestational diabetes is an issue in an estimated 2-10% of pregnancies each year. There are a number of factors that may raise your risk for developing this condition. They include:
Your health history. If you had elevated blood sugar prior to becoming pregnant or if a family member has diabetes, your risk may be greater. In addition, if you were significantly overweight before becoming pregnant, have had gestational diabetes before, or have given birth to a high birth weight baby (greater than 9 pounds), you may be more likely to develop this condition. Other health conditions, such as high blood pressure also raise your risk.
Your age. Women who are older than 25 have an increased risk for gestational diabetes.
Your ethnicity. It’s unclear why, but African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women are at higher risk for this condition.
Having gestational diabetes can be a problem, both for baby and mother. The high levels of sugar (glucose) in your blood are passed to your baby, and can cause your baby’s pancreas to produce too much insulin. This causes your baby to grow too large, making labor and delivery more difficult. Your baby may also be at risk for preterm birth, respiratory distress, and post-delivery blood sugar problems, such as low blood sugar, or an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes later in their life.
If you develop gestational diabetes, you are at an increased risk for high blood pressure and preeclampsia. In addition, your risk for gestational diabetes in a future pregnancy or Type 2 diabetes later in life is higher.
The Good News
After delivery, your blood sugar will usually return to normal, or pre-pregnancy levels. In addition, gestational diabetes is a condition over which you have some control, and this is where BodaHealth can help you. Controlling your blood sugar during your pregnancy can help protect your health and that of your baby.
It’s well known that diet, nutrition, and exercise can help moderate the level of glucose in your blood. At BodaHealth, we can augment those strategies through acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and naturopathic medicine. While research in treating diabetes with acupuncture is limited, early studies are investigating the role of acupuncture in regulating pancreatic function, as well as it’s role in weight loss to reduce the effect and risk of diabetes. (https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/acupuncture-for-diabetes)
Acupuncture is routinely and effectively used in treating stress. It increases the circulation of neurotransmitters, called endorphins, which help elevate mood, produce a feeling of calm, and relieve pain. Endorphins don’t directly affect insulin, however, when you’re stressed, the balance of stress hormones—cortisol, adrenaline, and insulin—become out of balance. So acupuncture’s role in reducing stress can actually help balance those hormones and help control insulin.
At BodaHealth, our practitioners are able to work with you to develop a treatment plan that combines acupuncture with herbal supplementation, dietary therapy, weight loss strategies, exercise, and lifestyle modifications to help you lower your risk for, or if necessary, control your gestational diabetes. Our naturopathic doctors are able to conduct or prescribe routine blood tests, assess your nutritional status, and prescribe herbal, vitamin, or nutritional supplementation if needed.
Hypertension and Preeclampsia
High blood pressure during pregnancy is a condition that affects about 6-10% of pregnant women. A blood pressure reading of 130/90 is a cause for concern, and is considered to be high at 140/90. If this is your first pregnancy, you are carrying more than one baby, have a history of or a family member with high blood pressure, are obese, or are over the age of 40, you may be at risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension.
If you have high blood pressure during your pregnancy, it will fall into one of three categories:
- Chronically high blood pressure before you became pregnant that continues into your pregnancy
- High blood pressure that occurred after about week 20 of your pregnancy that resolves after birth.
- Elevated blood pressure during pregnancy that is accompanied by protein in your urine and swelling in your feet, legs, and hands. This is called toxemia or preeclampsia, and is considered to be a severe condition that may place your health or that of your baby at risk.
The exact cause of preeclampsia isn’t known, but scientists believe that it’s related to a number of factors; a problem with the placenta, poor blood flow to the uterus, high body weight, or nutritional insufficiencies.
Preeclampsia is a problem for your baby because it can limit blood flow to the placenta, causing you to have a low birth weight baby or a premature birth. For the mother, preeclampsia presents a greater risk. Preeclampsia can lead to seizures if your blood pressure continues to be elevated late in your pregnancy. Other complications may include a risk of stroke, heart and lung problems, and bleeding. While high blood pressure may go unnoticed because the symptoms are subtle or non-existent, preeclampsia is more likely to produce symptoms, such as headaches, significant water retention, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, vision problems, decreased urine output, and abdominal pain.
The only cure for gestational hypertension and preeclampsia is to deliver your baby. If your blood pressure continues to creep upward or if you develop preeclampsia, your doctor will need to assess whether delivering your baby early or trying to manage your hypertension is a safer option, both for you and your baby. Your blood pressure should return to safe levels within weeks after your delivery.
Treating Hypertension and Preeclampsia
If you have pregnancy-induced hypertension, you know how alarming this condition can be. The priority for your care is managing your blood pressure. Your doctor will want to monitor your blood pressure and urine output frequently, and may prescribe medications to lower your blood pressure or prevent seizures.
At BodaHealth, we also understand your worry. Our team is committed to working with you throughout your entire pregnancy, addressing any complications that may arise. When it comes to pregnancy-induced hypertension, our practitioners can be an important and reassuring part of your health care team. We can provide regular acupuncture sessions, Chinese herbal medicine, naturopathic medicine, nutritional suggestions, blood pressure monitoring, and vitamin and nutritional supplements as gentle and natural health care throughout your pregnancy.
Scientists are beginning to determine that acupuncture can be a helpful tool in lowering blood pressure during pregnancy. A 2016 study concluded that acupuncture combined with standard treatments lowered blood pressure in women with preeclampsia better than standard treatments alone. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26516136) In addition, acupuncture is well-known for its effectiveness in treating stress, which can be a contributing factor to high blood pressure in general.
Naturopathic medicine can play an important role, both in monitoring and treating hypertension and preeclampsia. Our naturopathic doctors are able to assess your risk factors, monitor your health, and prescribe a variety of strategies that are best suited to your specific condition and needs.
At BodaHealth, our practitioners have specific training and years of experience in treating women throughout every stage of their pregnancy. We recognize that your pregnancy may not go as smoothly as you would like. We’re here to support you throughout your pregnancy and provide you the best natural health care possible, no matter what challenges your pregnancy brings. Give us a call today to see how we can help you.