Gestational Diabetes: What You Should Know
A Common Worry
Only about 18 percent of expecting mothers develop gestational diabetes according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), but many moms-to-be worry about it. “Diabetes” can be a scary word, one that women certainly don’t want to hear while they're preparing to welcome a new baby into the world.
However, gestational diabetes is often temporary, disappearing after birth, and can often be managed with diet alone. Click through the slideshow to learn how to manage and treat this condition.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is typically a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy (gestation). The body is unable to produce enough insulin to adequately process glucose (sugar) from foods, so blood sugar levels rise.
Gestational diabetes is also sometimes called glucose intolerance or carbohydrate intolerance. When treated effectively, the condition presents little risk of complications to the mother and the unborn child.
Why Would This Happen During Pregnancy?
It’s all about those pregnancy hormones. They can make it harder for your body to use insulin properly, so the pancreas produces more to keep up with glucose demands. This is called insulin resistance.
According to the ADA, a woman with gestational diabetes may require up to three times more insulin than during a normal pregnancy. Eventually her body may no longer be able to keep up with the demands for glucose, resulting in gestational diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms can be tricky. Women typically experience few or mild symptoms that go unnoticed. Therefore, expecting mothers are usually tested for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Those considered high risk may have the test earlier and repeated a few weeks later.
When symptoms are present, the most common include:
- blurred vision
- increased thirst and urination
- frequent infections
- nausea and vomiting
- weight loss
Am I at Risk?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women at high risk include those who:
- are over 25 years old when pregnant
- have high blood pressure
- have previously given birth to a “big” baby (over 9 pounds)
- have had an unexplained stillbirth
- have had a baby with a birth defect
- are obese (body mass index over 30) before pregnancy
- have a strong family history of the disease
What if I Test Positive?
A positive result on the initial glucose-screening test isn't the final word. If you test positive, your doctor will typically perform a follow-up glucose tolerance test to confirm a diagnosis.
The good news is that gestational diabetes can be managed. However, if your blood sugar levels remain high, your baby may put on extra weight. This can result in a difficult delivery that increases your baby’s risk of suffering a fractured bone or nerve damage.
What’s the Treatment for Gestational Diabetes?
Your doctor will most likely advise you to keep track of your glucose levels using a home glucose monitor. To keep your levels where they should be, you’ll likely take the following steps:
- monitor your blood sugar levels several times a day
- follow a specific diet plan that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limits refined carbohydrates and sweets
- implement an exercise plan that gets you moving every day
- monitor your weight gain
Prevention and Future Concerns
What about future risk of diabetes? For most women, gestational diabetes disappears about six weeks after giving birth. However, women who have gestational diabetes are at a higher risk for getting diabetes in the future. According to the NIH, many who develop gestational diabetes also develop type 2 diabetes five to 10 years post-delivery.
To minimize your risk, keep your weight down, exercise regularly, and make smart food choices. These steps can help lower your risk of getting gestational diabetes.
A Manageable Condition
Most women are able to manage their gestational diabetes with lifestyle changes alone. For example, exercise helps lower blood sugar and increases the body’s ability to use insulin. However, some women will require medications to keep blood sugar levels even.
Your doctor may ask you to go through additional ultrasounds or other tests to provide you with the best treatment options. The best approach is to be informed and realize that together with your obstetrician, you can effectively handle gestational diabetes.