How to Prevent Gestational Diabetes

Approximately 10% of people will get gestational diabetes, which is diabetes (high blood sugar) that's diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. You won't already have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes when diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which usually resolves after pregnancy.

Losing weight before becoming pregnant and maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy can help prevent gestational diabetes.

This article will review ways to prevent gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman checking blood glucose levels at home

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Who Is at Risk for Gestational Diabetes?

The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not fully understood; however, several factors make some people more likely to get gestational diabetes than others. These include:

  • Advanced maternal age
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Previous gestational diabetes
  • Having a large baby (9 pounds or more)
  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Poor diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Although you may be unable to control some of these risks, there are ways to reduce your chances of getting gestational diabetes.

Get Healthy Before You Conceive

The first step in preventing gestational diabetes is getting healthy before you conceive. Pregnancy naturally causes some insulin resistance. However, if you start pregnancy overweight, you likely already have insulin resistance, increasing your risk for diabetes. Before you conceive, help prevent gestational diabetes by:

  • Losing weight
  • Starting exercise
  • Eating well-balanced meals
  • Eliminating alcohol and smoking

Talk to your healthcare provider about what weight is healthy for you. Creating a healthy lifestyle before you conceive will help you maintain that lifestyle during and after pregnancy.

Check Your Blood Sugar Early

Gestational diabetes starts to develop around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Early glucose testing is essential to you and the baby's health. In addition, the sooner treatment is started, the better controlled gestational diabetes can be.

Unmanaged gestational diabetes can lead to macrosomia (large baby), resulting in a difficult or early delivery. Large infants are at risk for low blood sugar at birth, which may require intravenous (IV) glucose and special monitoring in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Additionally, the pregnant person and the baby are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Be sure to ask your healthcare provider when glucose testing is right for you during pregnancy.

Eat to Lower Blood Sugar

Eating a balanced diet is one of the key components to preventing gestational diabetes. Recommendations for lowering blood sugar through diet include:

  • Eating three to four small- to moderate-sized meals daily, including one to two snacks
  • Not skipping meals or snacks (which can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels)
  • Having three to five servings of vegetables daily
  • Having two to four servings of fruit daily
  • Choosing healthy carbohydrates (whole-grain bread, beans, brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
  • Eating two to three servings of protein (lean meats and fish, eggs, peanut butter)
  • Eating four servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy products daily
  • Limiting fat, fried food, sugar, and red meat

Add Fiber

Studies show that women who increase their total daily fiber by 10 grams can reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes by 26%. However, women who eat a low-fiber diet are twice as likely to get gestational diabetes.

Fiber Rich Foods

  • Raspberries, pears, oranges
  • Beans, lentils
  • Broccoli, collard greens
  • Barley, oatmeal, whole grains

Limit Sugar

If you want to prevent gestational diabetes, it's essential to limit sugar. People with gestational diabetes can't produce enough insulin to manage large amounts of glucose, which results in elevated blood sugar levels. One study found, drinking five or more servings of sugar-sweetened cola daily before pregnancy showed an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Limiting sweets and candy to small portions and sharing desserts with others can help reduce sugar intake without feeling deprived.

Stay Active

Exercise helps with weight loss and allows the muscles to utilize glucose, reducing blood sugar levels. Studies show that people who exercise before pregnancy have a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Working your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week is ideal (this equates to 30 minutes of exercise most days). During pregnancy, check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen. Exercise that helps prevent gestational diabetes includes:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Strength training

Get Enough Rest

You will need plenty of rest to exercise effectively, especially during pregnancy. One study found that pregnant women who sleep less than six hours nightly are more likely to have gestational diabetes. To improve sleep while pregnant, try developing a bedtime routine, such as:

  • Don't have caffeineted drinks after noon.
  • Stop using screens within an hour of bedtime.
  • Relax with a bath, yoga, or reading before bed.
  • Get comfortable using different-sized pillows.
  • Try a sleep meditation to help you fall asleep quicker.


Not everyone will be able to prevent gestational diabetes, but there are ways you can reduce the risk of developing the disease. First, get healthy before conceiving by losing weight, incorporating a well-balanced diet and exercise regimen in your routine, and eliminating smoking. Once pregnant, be sure to have your blood glucose testing done as prescribed and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Ensuring you get enough sleep can also help reduce your risk of gestational diabetes.

A Word From Verywell

Babies born to people with gestational diabetes can have significant side effects, including developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Replacing sugar-sweetened foods and drinks with fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising, and practicing a healthy sleep routine can improve your chances of not developing the disease. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a dietician if you'd like more information on improving your health before becoming pregnant.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • At what week does gestational diabetes develop?

    Gestational diabetes usually occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy.

  • What are the warning signs of gestational diabetes?

    Signs of gestational diabetes include increased thirst and urination, more fatigue than usual, and unintentional weight loss.

7 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. American Diabetes Association. Gestational diabetes.

  2. Zhang C, Rawal S, Chong YS. Risk factors for gestational diabetes: Is prevention possible?Diabetologia. 2016;59(7):1385-1390. doi:10.1007/s00125-016-3979-3

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gestational diabetes.

  4. MedlinePlus. Gestational diabetes diet.

  5. National Institutes of Health. Healthy pre-pregnancy diet and exercise may reduce risk of gestational diabetes.

  6. American Diabetes Association. Anaerobic exercise and diabetes.

  7. Reutrakulab, S., Anothaisintaweecd, T., Herring, S., et al. Short sleep duration and hyperglycemia in pregnancy: Aggregate and individual patient data meta-analysisSleep Medicine Reviews. 2018;40:31-42.

By Serenity Mirabito RN, OCN
Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, advocates for well-being, even in the midst of illness. She believes in arming her readers with the most current and trustworthy information leading to fully informed decision making.