Gestational diabetes causes higher-than-normal blood sugar. It occurs only during pregnancy, and it usually goes away once you’ve delivered your baby.
Women with gestational diabetes have higher-than-normal blood sugar because their bodies become resistant to insulin. The hormone insulin regulates blood sugar.
Getting tested for gestational diabetes is an important part of prenatal care. All pregnant women are tested at least once during pregnancy. Your doctor will consider your risk factors to determine when you should have this test and how often you should have it.
Learn what to expect during this test and how to prepare.
Many women who have gestational diabetes have no symptoms. If symptoms do appear, it’s possible you may overlook them because they’re similar to typical pregnancy symptoms.
These symptoms may include:
You should call your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms to a greater degree than is normal for you.
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, but it may be due to hormones your placenta produces.
These hormones help your baby grow, but they can also stop insulin from doing its job.
If your body isn’t sensitive to insulin, the sugar in your bloodstream stays put and isn’t move out of your blood into your cells like it should be. The sugar is then unable to convert into energy in the cells. This is called insulin resistance. This causes the blood sugar levels to increase.
If it’s left untreated, gestational diabetes can have significant consequences for both you and your baby. Once your doctor knows you have this condition, they’ll work with you on a treatment plan to ensure your and your baby’s health.
Any pregnant woman can get gestational diabetes. That’s why doctors test every woman who’s pregnant. Gestational diabetes affects about 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies.
Certain factors might increase your risk and require you to get tested during the first prenatal visit. Your doctor may also test you several times afterward. The risk factors include:
- being obese
- being more than 25 years old
- having a family history of diabetes
- having a history of gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
- gaining a significant amount of weight in early adulthood and between pregnancies
- gaining an excessive amount of weight while pregnant
- being pregnant with multiples, such as twins or triplets
- having a previous delivery of a baby who weighted more than 9 pounds
- having high blood pressure
- having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- taking glucocorticoids
Doctors use different types of screening tests. Many doctors use a two-step approach, starting with the glucose challenge test. This test determines your likelihood of having the disorder.
Glucose challenge test
You don’t need to do anything to prepare for this test. You can eat and drink normally beforehand.
When you arrive at your doctor’s office, you’ll drink a syrupy solution that contains glucose. One hour later, you’ll take a blood test. If your blood sugar is high, your doctor will schedule a glucose tolerance test.
Glucose tolerance test
This test measures your body’s response to glucose. It’s used to determine how well your body handles glucose after a meal.
Your doctor will ask you to fast overnight to prepare for this test. Ask your doctor if you can sip water during this time. You should remind your doctor of any medications you’re taking and ask if you should stop them during this time.
The test is then performed as follows:
- After arriving at your doctor’s office, your doctor measures your fasting blood sugar.
- Afterward, you drink an 8-ounce glass of glucose solution.
- Your doctor measures your glucose levels once per hour for the next three hours.
If two of the measurements show high blood sugar, your doctor will diagnose gestational diabetes.
Some doctors skip the glucose challenge test and only perform the glucose tolerance test. Talk to your doctor about which protocol makes sense for you.
If you have gestational diabetes, your doctor will monitor your condition frequently. They’ll use sonograms to pay close attention to your baby’s growth.
During pregnancy, you may also self-monitor at home. You can use a tiny needle called a lancet to prick your finger for a droplet of blood. You then analyze the blood using a blood glucose monitor. People usually perform this test when they wake up and after meals. Learn more about diabetes home tests.
If lifestyle changes with diet and increased exercise aren’t working to reduce blood sugar levels, your doctor may recommend that you administer insulin injections. According to the Mayo Clinic, between 10 and 20 percent of pregnant women with gestational diabetes need this type of help to bring their blood sugar down.
Your doctor may also prescribe oral medication to control your blood sugar.
It’s important to keep gestational diabetes under control. If it’s left untreated, possible complications include:
- high blood pressure, also known as preeclampsia
- premature birth
- shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the baby’s shoulders to get stuck in the birth canal during delivery
- slightly higher rates of fetal and neonatal death
Untreated gestational diabetes can also result in the baby having a high birth weight. This is called macrosomia. Macrosomia may result in shoulder damage during birth and can require a cesarean delivery. Babies with macrosomia have a higher likelihood of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery. Eating right and exercising continue to remain important for your health after delivery.
Your baby’s lifestyle should also be healthy. Choose foods high in fiber and low in fat for the both of you. You should also avoid sugary sweets and simple starches whenever possible.
Making movement and exercise a part of your family’s life is a great way to support each other in your pursuit of healthy living.
Having gestational diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Your doctor will have you do another glucose tolerance test 6 to 12 weeks after you deliver your baby to make sure you no longer have diabetes. Going forward, you should have screening blood tests at least every three years.
Lifestyle changes may help prevent gestational diabetes or reduce its impact. These changes include:
- losing weight before pregnancy
- setting a goal for pregnancy weight gain
- eating high-fiber, low-fat foods
- reducing the size of your food portions
You should incorporate the following into your diet:
- whole grains, such as quinoa
- lean protein, such as tofu, chicken, and fish
- low-fat dairy