Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during a woman’s pregnancy, although data shows that it can turn into type 2 diabetes after a person gives birth.
Your body needs glucose for energy, but too much glucose in the blood is not good for a baby. If you have blood sugar that is too high then you have diabetes. Gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed during the late stages of a pregnancy. Those who are diagnosed early in their pregnancy may in fact have had the medical problem before they even became pregnant.
Research shows that up to 20 percent of pregnant women suffer from gestational diabetes. Furthermore, studies suggest people with gestational diabetes are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes after their pregnancy. Regular screening is therefore important for women who have had gestational diabetes. If left unchecked, type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health complications, including renal failure, nerve damage, blindness, and heart disease.
Interestingly, a large study out of McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada has shown that gestational diabetes not only signals future risk of diabetes in the mother, but the father as well. The study published in Diabetes Care states that a 33 percent greater occurrence of diabetes was found in men whose partner had gestational diabetes, compared to men whose partners did not have gestational diabetes. Previous studies have shown partners to be similar in their weight and physical activity. Additionally, other research has demonstrated that spousal diabetes was a diabetes risk factor.
The authors of the McGill study have said their work suggests that couples share risk due to their “shared social and cultural environment, which may contribute to “health behaviors and attitudes.”
Gestational diabetes causes and symptoms
So what are the causes of gestational diabetes? It’s important to understand that it happens when the body can’t make insulin during pregnancy. The pancreas makes insulin, which helps the body use glucose for energy and control blood glucose levels. During pregnancy, the body makes more hormones though and goes through many changes, including weight gain, of course. All the changes lead the body cells to use insulin less efficiently. This is called insulin resistance. The problem is that it increases the body’s need for insulin, and if your pancreas can’t make enough insulin you will get gestational diabetes.
All women who are pregnant get a certain amount of insulin resistance during late pregnancy, but some women are at a higher risk – before they become pregnant – of having a higher insulin resistance and, therefore, higher chance of getting gestational diabetes.
Here are some reasons why some women may be more prone to gestational diabetes:
- Being overweight
- Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Having pre-diabetes
- Having had gestational diabetes before
- Having given birth to a baby that is more than nine pounds
- Being African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latina, or Pacific Islander American
- Having a hormonal disorder called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
A doctor usually detects gestational diabetes symptoms during a routine exam. Women don’t normally notice any gestational diabetes signs. Since the signs and symptoms are not noticeable, doctors have made a point to monitor the blood sugar of women in the last three months of pregnancy. If gestational diabetes is diagnosed, the doctor may refer the patient to a specialist who can teach her how to manage her blood sugar during the pregnancy
Gestational diabetes complications
Gestational diabetes can be controlled and you can have a perfectly health baby. When it is not controlled, it can cause problems for you or your baby. One of the common outcomes is the need for a C-section delivery. There are other complications as listed below.
- Excessive birth weight
- Early birth and respiratory distress syndrome
- Risk of developing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in babies
- Higher risk of type 2 diabetes for babies later in life
Untreated gestational diabetes can be a matter of life and death. It means that a baby could die before birth or shortly after being born.
In terms of gestational diabetes complications for the mother, there are a couple points to consider. Firstly, gestational diabetes raises your risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and a large amount of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can damage the placenta, which feeds and supports the baby. It can also damage the mother’s kidneys or liver. The other point to consider is that those who get gestational diabetes with one pregnancy are likely to get it with subsequent pregnancies.
Gestational diabetes treatment and prevention
When it comes to gestational diabetes treatment, there are several approaches. But first and foremost you must monitor your blood sugar often while you are pregnant. Some doctors will instruct you to check your level four or five times a day to make sure you are staying within a healthy range.
Maintaining a healthy diet with reasonably sized portions is often a helpful way to control blood sugar. Many people have demonstrated that weight control keeps their blood sugar level in check. While doctors don’t advise trying to lose weight while you are pregnant, they can help you set weight gain goals based on your weight before your pregnancy.
In some cases, medication is required for gestational diabetes treatment. For example, insulin injections may be needed to lower your blood sugar. Research shows that between 10 and 20 percent of women with gestational diabetes require insulin. Some doctors prescribe an oral medication for blood sugar control, but many in the medical field feel that more study is needed to test the safety of this oral treatment.
If you are concerned about risk factors, then consider gestational diabetes prevention. For instance, select foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and calories. Eating healthy by focusing on good foods can really do wonders when helping control blood sugar. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are excellent diet options.
It is also important to keep active during your pregnancy. Many specialists will recommend that you try to fit at least 30 minutes of moderate activity into your day when you are pregnant. This could mean a swim or brisk walk.
Although, doctors do not recommend losing weight during pregnancy, they do suggest trying to drop a few pounds before you conceive if you are planning to get pregnant and are concerned about your current weight. It could help you have a healthier pregnancy.
When many women think about becoming pregnant or discover they are expecting, they think about lifestyle changes. For example, giving up alcohol, caffeine, smoking, or processed foods. Obstetricians say they need to take it a step further and think about all choices, including food portions and exercise. A healthy lifestyle has long been associated with becoming less insulin resistant, so it makes sense that the same would apply to pregnancy.
If you happen to have gestational diabetes right now, you’ll have to have a glucose test about six to 12 weeks after delivering your baby. It’s important to follow up to determine whether you will have type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association also recommends repeat testing at least every three years.