Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops in pregnant women. Just like normal diabetes, the blood-sugar level of the pregnant woman elevates when experiencing gestational diabetes. If neglected, this type of diabetes can harm both mother and the baby.
Thankfully, this condition is also temporary. In most cases, the blood-sugar level drops to a normal and healthy level after delivery. The chances of contracting type 2 diabetes, however, is very high for women who have had gestational diabetes.
What causes gestational diabetes?
The blood-sugar level in a normal person’s body is controlled by a hormone called insulin. If the body is not able to produce the extra insulin needed during pregnancy, then it can result in gestational diabetes.
During pregnancy, a lot of changes take place in a woman’s body, like weight gain and other hormonal shifts to allow a baby to grow. For some women, the body does not produce enough insulin to meet the swift changes in the body. This is called insulin resistance . If the pregnant woman is not able to overcome insulin resistance, she typically ends up getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Women who are overweight before pregnancy or have gained a lot of weight during pregnancy have higher chances of developing gestational diabetes. Similarly, a family history of diabetes also increases the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes.
Some women develop very mild symptoms, like excessive thirst and fatigue, which might go unnoticed. Others may not show any symptoms at all during the early stages. Conducting a blood test between the 24 th and 28 th week of pregnancy is the best way to find out if you have gestational diabetes.
How can gestational diabetes affect you and your baby?
High birth weight
When a woman has gestational diabetes, the high glucose level in her body gets passed on to the baby through the placenta. This causes the baby’s body to produce more insulin to combat the excess glucose level.
Additional insulin can cause excessive growth of the unborn baby and can make delivering the baby naturally very difficult. Oftentimes, doctors will perform C-sections for the mother’s and baby’s safety.
An increase in the blood-sugar level heightens the chances of preterm delivery . In some cases, the doctors might recommend inducing to encourage a preterm birth because of the larger size of the baby. If the baby is delivered preterm, he or she could develop respiratory-distress syndrome, if the baby’s lungs are not fully developed.
Low blood sugar
The excess insulin in the baby’s body can sometimes lower the baby’s blood sugar level. This can lead to seizures in the baby shortly after birth if not monitored closely.
High blood pressure
If a pregnant woman develops gestational diabetes, then the chances of her blood pressure rising is very high. High blood pressure can lead to a condition called preeclampsia , which includes high blood pressure followed by swollen hands and feet and a presence of protein in the urine.
Chances of future diabetes
If you develop gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, then the chances of contracting type 2 diabetes in the future is very high. The baby is also at higher risk of developing diabetes. However, making certain lifestyle choices, like regular exercise and a healthy diet, can help combat the early onset of diabetes.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Gestational diabetes is diagnosed most commonly through a blood test when a woman is 24 to 28 weeks pregnant. Two types of tests are conducted to diagnose gestational diabetes: the glucose challenge test (GCT) and oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).
In the GCT, your doctor will provide you with a liquid containing glucose to drink. One hour after you consume the liquid, your blood sample will be collected and sent for examination. If the blood-glucose level is more than 140, then you will be sent for the OGTT while fasting.
The OGTT is done after 8 hours of fasting, preferably in the morning. First, your blood sample will be collected, and then you will be asked to drink a liquid containing glucose. Your blood will be drawn every one to two hours to check for gestational diabetes.
How is gestational diabetes treated?
The treatment for gestational diabetes should start immediately after it has been diagnosed. The main treatment includes following a gestational diabetes diet of mostly nutritious, whole foods, like whole grains, lean protein, and lots of veggies.
Regular physical activity is also strongly recommended to maintain the utmost levels of health for the woman and her baby. The blood-glucose level should be checked at regular intervals to ensure that it is within limits.
How to prevent gestational diabetes
If you have the means, it’s always better to prevent harmful medical conditions rather than fighting them after diagnosis. For the best health of you and your baby, here are a few tips on how you can protect yourself from gestational diabetes.
Choose food that is rich in fiber and low in sugar. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best choices, and try to eat foods with as little additives and processing as possible. The more natural, the better. Eat smaller amounts of food at regular intervals throughout the day, rather than three large meals a day.
Being active throughout your pregnancy decreases the chance of contracting gestational diabetes. Exercise on a regular basis, at least 3 to 5 times per week if possible. Low-impact exercise, like walking and swimming, is the best form of exercise during this stage.
Maintain weight at the optimal level
Check your weight regularly throughout pregnancy, and try to remain at your optimal weight . Of course, growing a baby inside you means some weight will be gained, but you don’t want to gain an excessive amount in a short period of time. Your doctor can help you figure out if your weight is healthy.
Correct detection and treatment of gestational diabetes are crucial, as it will affect the health of both mother and the baby after birth, as well. Proper treatment also ensures that you deliver a healthy baby without any complications.
For more information
Gestational diabetes is a serious condition, but it can be monitored and treated for the benefit of you and your baby. Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times of a woman’s life. While there are certain risks involved in this transformative time, with the right medical care, you’ll feel confident about maintaining a healthy and safe pregnancy. For more information about preventing and treating gestational diabetes, contact The Women’s Clinic at (501) 664-4131 today to speak with a healthcare professional.