What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes occurs when women who are pregnant develop high blood sugar levels when they never had diabetes before. The American Diabetes Association estimates that gestational diabetes affects as high as 18% of pregnancies, making it one of the most common health problems that arise during pregnancy. While there is no known reason for why one might develop gestational diabetes, researchers believe it has to do with hormones helping the baby develop and making it harder for the body to use insulin.
Can they test for gestational diabetes?
Yes! The disease is often tested for around the 24 week mark of pregnancy. By doing a simple glucose screening test, also called a GCT, the doctors can see if your body is properly processing sugar. The doctor will have you drink a very sweet liquid that has 50 grams of sugar in it. One hour later, the doctors will do a blood test to see how much of the sugar was processed by your body. If the test shows blood sugar levels that are abnormally high, a second test will be administered to confirm the first one. Often, the second test will come back negative, meaning you do not have gestational diabetes.
If you are concerned that you might have developed diabetes before the 24 week mark, or feel that you are at a higher risk for gestational diabetes, a simple urine test can be done to see if you have an abnormally high level of sugar in your urine.
Are you at risk?
The American Diabetes Association suggestions anyone meeting these conditions are at a higher risk for developing gestational diabetes:
- Overweight or obese
- Member of a high risk ethnic group (Native American, Asian, Black, or Hispanic)
- Had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
- Previously gave birth to a large baby (over 9 pounds)
- Family history of diabetes
- Sugar shows up in your urine
- Having too much amniotic fluid (referred to as the medical condition polyhydramnios)
- Excessive weight gain during the first trimester
Managing Gestational Diabetes
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it is important to keep a very close eye on blood sugar levels. You will need to test the levels several times a day to make sure everything is in check. An exercise routine will help you shed some weight which can make managing blood glucose levels easier, but should only be started with your doctor’s permission and guidance. Depending on what your blood glucose levels are, the doctor might prescribe insulin to help ensure that your glucose levels remain in check.
A doctor will also have you meet with a dietician to create a plan that will work for you. They will insure that you eat a healthy variety of foods so you and your baby receive the nutrients you need. They will also give recommendations for breakfast and snack options to combat morning sickness. Some changes your doctor and dietitian might recommend include:
- Drink at least 8 cups of fluid a day
- Eating three small meals a day along with 2-3 snacks
- Never skipping a meal or snack
- Avoid fried and greasy foods
- Try and eat high fiber foods
Along with diet changes, the doctor might suggest a schedule for taking vitamins and nutrients. These will ensure that you are getting all of the vitamins you need for a healthy baby.
Does gestational diabetes affect the baby?
As long as you are able to keep your blood sugar levels under control, there is no reason to worry about any harm to your baby. However, it is very important to catch problems with diabetes sooner rather than later. If a mother develops diabetes and leaves it untreated in the early stages of pregnancy, she increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage. Additionally, there is also an increased chance of a birth defect affecting a major organ if the diabetes is not caught and treated early.
A common issue that arises in mothers with diabetes is that they give birth to very large babies. If you keep your blood sugar at normal levels, you have no need to worry about this occurring. However, if blood sugar levels are high, the baby’s will also be high from extra glucose going into the baby’s blood stream. When this occurs, the baby’s pancreas overproduces insulin and causes the baby to gain weight. This can lead to complications with delivery and the mother may require a cesarean section.
Other issues to worry about include the baby developing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, due to the excess insulin their little body is producing. This can normally be corrected for shortly after birth. The baby can also develop jaundice, a changing of skin color, breathing problems, and problems with obesity in childhood, if the mother doesn’t treat her diabetes.
As long as a mother catches her diabetes early and is under the supervision of a doctor to make sure blood sugar levels are kept in control, there is no reason to worry about any problems to the baby. These problems only occur when a mother allows her blood sugar levels to get out of control. Just remember that when glucose levels are out of control, so are your baby’s!
Most women do not continue to have diabetes after giving birth. However, roughly 1 out of every 3 mothers will continue to struggle with keeping their blood sugar levels in a normal range after birth. It’s important to continue managing your diabetes and to check glucose levels for 3 months after delivery. Once in check, it’s important to test for diabetes regularly to make sure you don’t develop type 2 diabetes. While having gestational diabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes, a healthy diet and exercise routine will strongly reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
- Baby Center
- American Diabetes Association
- WebMd- Gestational Diabetes Guide
- National Institute of Health