If you’re planning to have a family, learning about Gestational Diabetes-protecting your pregnancy and your baby, is a priority.
➡ This is a condition which develops during gestation (pregnancy), and, like other types of Diabetes, affects how your cells use sugar (glucose).
➡ Gestational Diabetes causes high blood sugar.
➡ Like Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, it requires reinforcing or making changes to your lifestyle to maintain control and keep you and your baby healthy.
- Working with your healthcare team will be crucial for monitoring and managing your blood sugar levels.
Here is the basic information you need about Gestational Diabetes-Protecting your pregnancy and your baby.
All women who are pregnant develop hormonal changes, and some of those changes will push their blood sugar numbers up to the levels of a diabetic.
➡ As with other types of Diabetes, if your body can’t produce enough insulin on its own to turn that glucose into energy for your cells, your blood sugar will test high.
➡ Gestational diabetes usually develops during the last half of pregnancy — sometimes as early as the 20th week, but generally not until later.
How pregnancy affects your body’s glucose processing
- Your body digests the food you eat to produce sugar (glucose) that enters your bloodstream.
- In response, your pancreas — a large gland behind your stomach — produces insulin.
- Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose move from your bloodstream into your body’s cells, where it’s used as energy.
During pregnancy, the placenta, which connects your baby to your blood supply, produces high levels of various other hormones. Almost all of them interfere with the action of insulin in your cells, raising your blood sugar.
- As your baby grows, the placenta produces more and more of these hormones.
In Gestational Diabetes, the placental hormones cause a rise in blood sugar to a level that can affect the growth and welfare of your baby.
Although there’s really no one cause, there are indications that mothers who are overweight, have had Polycystic Ovarian Disease, or have a family history of diabetes are at a higher risk of developing Gestational Diabetes.
For most women, gestational diabetes doesn’t cause noticeable signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor
If possible, start looking for a healthcare professional when you first think about trying to get pregnant.
Your doctor can evaluate your risk of Gestational Diabetes as part of your overall pregnancy plan.
➡ Once you’re pregnant, your doctor will check you for Gestational Diabetes as part of your prenatal care.
➡ In the event you do develop it, you’ll need more frequent checkups, especially during the last 3 months of pregnancy.
➡ Your doctor will monitor your blood sugar level and your baby’s health.
Your doctor may also (hopefully) refer you to an Endocrinologist.
➡ An Endocrinologist is a physician specifically trained in treating the endocrine system. That includes the glands which release hormones into the circulatory system, to be carried to targeted organs.
➡ An Endocrinologist specializes in treating disorders such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and many others.
Your healthcare team should also include other health professionals specializing in Diabetes, such as a Registered Dietician (RD) or a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).
These specialists can help you learn to manage your blood sugar levels during your pregnancy and develop a plan specifically tailored to your needs and nutritional requirements.
After your delivery:
Your health care team will check your blood sugar right after delivery and again in six weeks to make sure it has returned to normal after your baby is born.
- The frequency of blood sugar tests will, in part, depend on your test results soon after you deliver your baby.
Any woman can develop Gestational Diabetes, but some women are at greater risk. Risk factors include:
- Age older than 25.
- Family or personal health history. Your risk increases if you have prediabetes (slightly elevated blood sugar that may be a precursor to type 2 diabetes) or if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has type 2 diabetes.
➡ You’re also more likely to develop Gestational Diabetes if you had it during a previous pregnancy, if you delivered a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds or if you had an unexplained stillbirth.
- Excess weight. You’re more likely to develop Gestational Diabetes if you’re significantly overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
Most women who have gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies.
- However, Gestational Diabetes that’s not carefully managed can lead to uncontrolled blood sugar levels and cause problems for you and your baby, including an increased likelihood of needing a C-section to deliver.
If you have Gestational Diabetes, your baby may be at increased risk of:
➡ Excessive birth weight. Extra glucose in your bloodstream crosses the placenta, which triggers your baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin. This can cause your baby to grow too large (macrosomia).
➡ Very large babies — those that weigh 9 pounds or more — are more likely to become wedged in the birth canal, sustain birth injuries or require a C-section birth.
- Early (preterm) birth and Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
➡ A mother’s high blood sugar may increase her risk of early labor and delivery of her baby before the baby’s due date. Or her doctor may recommend early delivery because the baby is large.
➡ Babies born early may experience Respiratory Distress Syndrome — a condition that makes breathing difficult.
- Babies with this syndrome may need help breathing until their lungs mature and become stronger.
- Babies of mothers with Gestational Diabetes may experience respiratory distress syndrome even if they’re not born early.
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Sometimes babies of mothers with gestational diabetes develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth because their own insulin production is high.
➡ Severe episodes of hypoglycemia may provoke seizures in the baby.
- Type 2 Diabetes later in life. Babies of mothers who have Gestational Diabetes have a higher risk of developing obesity and Type 2 Diabetes themselves, later in life.
Untreated Gestational Diabetes can result in a baby’s death either before or shortly after birth.
But…while we’re discussing Gestational Diabetes-Protecting Your Pregnancy And Your Baby, let’s remember that this is about YOU too.
Gestational Diabetes may increase the mother’s risk of:
➡ High blood pressure and Preeclampsia. Gestational Diabetes raises your risk of high blood pressure, as well as preeclampsia — a serious complication of pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and other symptoms that can threaten the lives of both mother and baby.
➡ Future Diabetes. If you have Gestational Diabetes, you’re more likely to get it again during a future pregnancy.
➡ You’re also more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes permanently as you get older.
However, positive lifestyle choices such as eating healthy foods and exercising can help reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes in the future.
➡ Of those women with a history of Gestational Diabetes who reach their ideal body weight after delivery, fewer than 1 in 4 eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing Gestational Diabetes — but the more healthy habits you can adopt before pregnancy, the better.
If you’ve had Gestational Diabetes in the past, these healthy choices may also reduce your risk of having it in future pregnancies or developing Type 2 Diabetes later.
- Choose foods high in fiber and low in fat and calories. Focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Strive for variety to help you achieve your goals without compromising taste or nutrition. Watch portion sizes.
- Exercising before and during pregnancy can help protect you from developing gestational diabetes.
➡ Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps.
If you can’t fit a single 30-minute workout into your day, several shorter sessions can do just as much good.
➡ Park in the distant lot when you run errands. Get off the bus one stop before you reach your destination. Every step you take increases your chances of staying healthy.
Lose excess pounds before pregnancy.
Doctors don’t recommend weight loss during pregnancy. But if you’re planning to get pregnant, losing extra weight beforehand will help you have a healthier pregnancy.
It’s a lot to take in, so take your time reading this thoroughly so that you can prepare.
I know what you may face, as I had Gestational Diabetes with each of my 3 children, without any complications, by following these suggestions.
With proper treatment, you can avoid a lot of the consequences and deliver a healthy normal baby.
And remember, the treatment in each case is specific, based on the results of the glucose and other tests. The important thing is to do what your doctor and nutritionist recommend.
And don’t forget to ask for help along the way!