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Type 1 diabetes in pregnancy

What to do and the signs

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition.

What this means is that for reasons we don’t yet fully understand, the immune system, which is meant to protect you from foreign bodies, such as viruses and bacteria, mistakenly attacks and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas.

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This is the organ that produces insulin.

A body that isn’t affected by type 1 diabetes has hormones that will keep blood glucose within a healthy range (4 – 7 mmol/L). Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose to move from the bloodstream into cells, which can then be used for energy.

Someone with type 1 diabetes will not have enough insulin or any insulin at all, meaning that blood glucose will fall or rise outside of the normal levels.

When blood glucose becomes too high the body will do whatever it can to try and remove the excess glucose from the blood.

You can’t prevent type 1 diabetes by adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, or living a healthy lifestyle. There is currently no known cure. But JDRF is committed to funding research that will find one

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

The common signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes are:

  • More frequent urination.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Tiredness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Ketones (expressed through ketotic-smelling breath).

While it can take years for damage to insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to eventually lead to type 1 diabetes, the onset of type 1 diabetes symptoms is rapid, happening over a matter of days and weeks rather than months. If you, or someone you know experiences the symptoms of type 1 diabetes you should seek medical treatment immediately. Type 1 diabetes is treated by insulin injection or pump infusion.

Type 1 Diabetes and Pregnancy

If you have type 1 diabetes and are planning a pregnancy, you need to plan months in advance to have the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. It's important to have your blood glucose controlled as well as possible before conceiving to minimise the risk to mother and baby. By planning ahead you can make sure you are ready for pregnancy, giving yourself enough time to make important changes.

Here is a pre-pregnancy checklist of things you need to do as you prepare for pregnancy

  1. See your diabetes healthcare team and GP – let them know your plans.
  2. Control your blood glucose/HbA1c
  3. Check your medication
  4. Check your insulin
  5. Take folic acid
  6. Have your eyes and kidneys checked
  7. Have you been vaccinated against rubella?
  8. Manage your dental health
  9. Look at your lifestyle

The JDRF Pregnancy Toolkit helps explain the best way to achieve a healthy pregnancy for mum and baby and what to expect when you are expecting with type 1 diabetes. The toolkit covers each trimester of pregnancy, helping mums-to-be understand what to expect and how their management of type 1 diabetes will be affected by their growing baby. There is also a helpful pre-pregnancy check list of things you need to think about before trying for a baby. Additional chapters cover the birth and post-pregnancy. 

Type 1 diabetes in pregnancy