Pregnancy, Diabetes Control & Double Blessings

Article excerpt

Byline: Janice Youngwith

Diabetes was the last thing on Meredith Velan's mind as the excited newlywed and her husband, Kevin, began making plans for a future family.

Those plans changed dramatically upon return from a weekend vacation when the then 30-year-old Walgreens market planning and research group employee was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disorder.

"I thought I had the stomach flu or possibly an infection," Velan says, recalling her unexplained weight loss, excessive thirst, fatigue and frequent trips to the bathroom. "The possibility of diabetes hadn't crossed my mind."

Results of a blood test and consultation at her local Walgreens Take Care Clinic left her reeling.

"At 30 years old I was newly married and excited to start a family," she says. "I'd always been vigilant about maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and making healthy food choices. Now I was faced with the reality of living with a chronic disease."

Due to her age, doctors initially suspected she had Type 2 diabetes, and hoped lifestyle modifications might help to manage the disease. Additional tests soon revealed a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and Velan learned she would need insulin therapy.

Over the next several months, she learned to count carbohydrates, control portion sizes and find time for 30-minute daily exercise sessions. She also says she thanked her lucky stars the disease was caught early, before she became pregnant.

Careful planning required

According to American Diabetes Association experts, diabetes can be a significant complication for women during pregnancy.

Because high blood glucose levels can cause birth defects in unborn babies, experts say it's important for any woman with diabetes to carefully plan pregnancy and make sure her blood glucose levels are well managed from the very beginning of pregnancy.

"It was all for the greater good and my goals -- learn how to manage my diabetes, get my blood glucose under control and then start a family," Velan says; she completely "locked in" to her mission. "I told my doctors I didn't care what it took and that I would do anything and everything I could to learn about and manage the disease so we could start our family."

Initially unaware of her diabetes diagnosis and with an 8.0 A1C score -- a test that measures average blood glucose control for the past two to three months -- Velan intensified her exercise program. Following diagnosis, she started a diet and exercise regimen and within three months the level dropped to 6.5. The couple transformed their lifestyle together and watched everything they ate, focusing on healthy whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and chicken. Within six months her A1C was down to 4.9.

"Even my endocrinologist was astounded and told me many people without diabetes don't have that good of a reading," Velan says. Her 6 a.m. pre-pregnancy workout sessions included a combination of cardiovascular and strength training.

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Transitioning to four insulin injections a day after the type 1 diagnosis was a blessing in disguise, Velan says. The insulin helped her prepare for pregnancy and to gain even better control of her diabetes. It also allowed her be less strict in regard to what she ate and to regain a few pounds she had lost.

After receiving her doctor's blessing, Velan and her husband began their journey into parenthood and were thrilled to learn they were expecting not one, but two babies.

"Having diabetes and being pregnant placed me in a high-risk category," she says. "With the discovery of twins, I shot to the top of the spectrum for high-risk pregnancies and began working very closely with a medical team including diabetes experts and my obstetrician."

While she did carefully watch carbohydrate consumption and nutrition, Velan says that since she had Type 1 diabetes, there wasn't really a need to change her diet during the pregnancy. …