Gestational Diabetes - What It Means and What You Can Do About It

About 6-9% of pregnant women in the U.S. will develop gestational diabetes. Let’s explore what that means and what can be done about it.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes only found in pregnancy. It doesn’t mean you had diabetes before you conceived or that you’ll have it after you have your baby. It occurs when your body becomes insulin resistant and cannot make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the blood to high levels – called hyperglycemia. Your pancreas works overtime to produce insulin, but the insulin doesn’t lower your blood glucose or blood sugar levels.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

Expectant mothers are tested for gestational diabetes somewhere between the 24th to 28th weeks of pregnancy. If you’re over the age of 35, overweight or have a family history of diabetes, you may be tested earlier and more frequently.

The test involves drinking a sweet liquid one hour before your blood is drawn. Unfortunately, even though it’s sweet, it’s not exactly tasty and may make you feel a little bit nauseous. However, the results from the blood test will indicate whether you are producing enough insulin or not.

How Can Gestational Diabetes Affect Your Baby?

Because gestational diabetes affects the mother in late pregnancy, after the baby’s body has been formed, it does not cause the kinds of congenital disabilities that can happen in babies whose mothers had diabetes before conceiving.

But your baby is still growing, and although insulin does not cross the placenta, glucose and other nutrients do. This extra blood glucose crossing through the placenta results in your baby’s pancreas making excess insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. The baby is now getting more energy than it needs to develop and grow, so the extra energy is stored as fat. This can result in macrosomia, which means a fat baby. This could also damage the shoulders during birth, increase your risk for a C-section, put the baby at a higher risk for breathing problems and jaundice and increase his or her risk for childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

How Is Gestational Diabetes Treated?

If you have gestational diabetes, your blood glucose levels will need to be closely monitored during your pregnancy. Some women require daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections. You will likely be asked to follow a special meal plan and scheduled physical activity. It’s important you stick to the diet and exercise as directed to help prevent your baby from getting too big.

What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes?

If you’re experiencing unusual thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, nausea (above and beyond usual pregnancy nausea), blurred vision, or recurring skin, bladder, or vaginal infections, you should talk to your doctor. These can all be signs of gestational diabetes and may lead your doctor to test the blood glucose levels in your urine sooner.

Facts About Gestational Diabetes

  • Between 2% to 10% of pregnant women will get gestational diabetes.
  • Immediately after pregnancy, 5% to 10% of women with gestational diabetes are found to have diabetes, usually type II.
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 30-65% chance of developing diabetes in the next 10-20 years.
  • Once you’ve had gestational diabetes, your chances are two in three that you will have it in future pregnancies.

What Now?

If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, follow all the guidelines set out for you by your healthcare provider for the best possible outcome for you and your baby. And know that you have a fantastic reward coming: meeting your new baby.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Diabetes Association
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Pregnancy Association

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