By Jennifer M. Barrett, MSc

November is National Diabetes Month. This disease is agnostic to age, race, and religion. While most people are familiar with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, one form of diabetes that remains an enigma to healthcare providers as well as pregnant women is gestational diabetes. Promoting Health After Gestational Diabetes is the focus of this year’s Diabetes Month campaign from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Imagine learning you are pregnant and you immediately begin to make dietary changes to protect your developing baby. You devour every healthy living article and begin to download apps to help track your nutrition and pregnancy progression. You voraciously and proudly attack the produce section of the grocery store and design your daily meal plans to include the most nutrient-dense foods. Even though you crave that doughnut that your husband is enjoying or that piece of cake that your colleague is obviously savoring—you are committed. You avoid the excess sugar and other junk food. In preparation for your glucose test, you create a plate of grilled chicken with sautéed kale and spinach. You confidently walk into the doctor’s office roll up your sleeve and present your arm to the phlebotomist ready to pass your glucose screening. Twenty-four hours later, you receive the call informing you that you failed the test and your ranges are abnormal.

Many expectant mothers become fearful of their health and the risks for their developing babies during pregnancy and post-partum stages. The plethora of emotions can begin to overwhelm the mother-to-be. She might unjustly blame herself. Confusion, frustration, and perhaps anger take turns tormenting her. She begins to question her every food choice.

Gestational diabetes is not something a mother-to-be can completely control. Pregnancy is a trigger for many changes in the body. Gestational diabetes is a sign that the pancreas is not working properly. Often, this form of diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs only during pregnancy, but there is also a high risk of mother and baby developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. The baby is also at risk for obesity, which can lead to a long list of comorbidities.

How can an expectant mother feel empowered and take back control over her and her baby’s health? There are a number of pioneers that have developed resources, support, therapies, and digital solutions to this growing problem. According to Healthline, the best free 2018 apps for managing diabetes include Fooducate, Glooko, Health2Sync, Glucosio, MyNetDiary Calorie Counter, mySugr: Diabetes Tracker Log, BG, BeatO, Glucose Buddy, DiabetesConnect, Diabetes:M. An app can quickly become a constant companion and provide a platform for personalized tracking. It is a virtual support system that can better inform doctor’s visits because of the logged information. It can alleviate the stress of keeping a written diary or computing complex calculations for food intake or sugar levels.

Healthcare providers should view these apps as valuable resources to supplement their recommended care plans. An app does not replace a healthcare provider, but an app, when used properly, can help significantly improve the patient’s satisfaction and quality of care. The apps can also dramatically improve the dialogue between the patient and the provider since daily data is tracked and readily available.

Apps and virtual communities overcome geographic barriers. Virtual support communities can also improve an expectant mother’s experience. Forums on BabyCenter, Everyday Health, or The Bump can help mitigate the painful stigma and the feeling of isolation.

As healthcare communication professionals at AXON, we are dedicated to improving dialogue between patients and their healthcare providers and empowering the patient in their healthcare decision making. We are also committed to providing resources to innovators in order to get their products to market to improve the lives of patients.