Gestational Diabetes is a condition during pregnancy where pregnant women develop high blood glucose levels. It is also known as gestational diabetes mellitus and it typically develops between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. It usually disappears after giving birth but if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Just like prediabetes, gestational diabetes does not typically show any noticeable symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they’ll likely be mild. They may include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Frequent urination
Gestational diabetes occurs when your body becomes resistant to insulin during your pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps move glucose out of your blood into your cells, where it’s used for energy. During pregnancy, your body produces high levels of other hormones. Most of these hormones cause your body to become resistant to insulin. In pregnancy, your body naturally becomes slightly insulin resistant, so that more glucose is available in your blood-stream to be passed to the baby. If the insulin resistance becomes too strong, your blood sugar levels may rise abnormally. This can cause gestational diabetes.
You’re at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if:
- are over age 25.
- have prediabetes
- a family member (such as a parent or sibling) has type 2 diabetes
- had it during a previous pregnancy
- delivered a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds (4.1 kilograms)
- are overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
- had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth.
- have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
For some unknown reasons, women who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian are at higher risk to develop gestational diabetes.
Blood glucose that is not well controlled in a woman with gestational diabetes can lead to serious issues for the pregnant woman and the baby:
An extra large baby
Uncontrolled diabetes causes the baby’s blood glucose level to be high and this triggers your baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin. This can cause your baby to grow extra-large. This may cause discomfort to you during the last few months of pregnancy. Your baby may sustain some birth injuries and you may require a c section to deliver the baby.
High blood pressure
Gestational diabetes can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure may cause harm to both you and your baby. It might lead to early birth and you could have a stroke during labor and delivery.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
If you have gestational diabetes, your baby may develop low blood sugar shortly after birth because your insulin production is high. Severe episodes of hypoglycemia may be very fatal to the baby.
Type 2 diabetes
If you have gestational diabetes, you’re more likely to get it again during a future pregnancy. It also raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Your baby also has a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in the future.
Certain habits can drastically reduce your risk of developing the condition. If you have at least one of the risk factors for gestational diabetes, you should try to eat healthy foods – fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, be more active – a 30 mins walk 5 days a week is a good deal.
If you’re planning to get pregnant and you are overweight, you should consider joining a weight loss program to help you out. Losing a modest amount of weight can greatly reduce your risk of gestational diabetes.
Pregnant women are encouraged to see a doctor who would screen you for gestational diabetes.
To test for gestational diabetes, you’ll be given a glucose solution. An hour later, you’ll take a blood sugar test. If the results show that your blood sugar is higher than 130 milligrams per deciliter [mg/dL], you will need to do a glucose tolerance test. If your results are normal but you have a high risk of getting gestational diabetes, you may need a follow-up test later in your pregnancy to make sure you still don’t have it.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will be required to
- Test your blood sugar before and after meals,
- Eat more healthy foods
- Be more physically active.
In some cases, you may be required to take oral glucose control medications or insulin injections.