What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a condition that happens in pregnant women who did not have diabetes before their pregnancy. It causes high blood sugar levels that can be harmful to you and your baby. Gestational diabetes usually appears during the second or third trimesters.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas. It helps your body break down glucose, or sugar, into energy. As your body and hormones change with pregnancy, your cells have trouble using insulin and blood sugar levels go up. This is called insulin resistance. All women will develop some degree of insulin resistance when pregnant, but most can overcome it by producing more insulin. Women who can’t, develop gestational diabetes.
We don’t know why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don’t. But being overweight before and gaining weight during pregnancy seem to play a major role. Some other risk factors include:
- A history of gestational diabetes with a previous pregnancy
- A family history of diabetes
- Not being physically active
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Having delivered a baby over 9 lbs during a previous pregnancy
Women of certain races and ethnicities are also more likely to develop gestational diabetes. If you’re African American, Hispanic, Asian American, or American Indian your risk is higher.
What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
There are usually no noticeable symptoms associated with gestational diabetes. Some women may notice they’re thirsty more often or have to go to the bathroom more frequently. These are also normal symptoms of being pregnant. It can be hard to tell if these symptoms are being caused by pregnancy or gestational diabetes.
How to test for gestational diabetes?
If you don’t have any risk factors, your healthcare provider will screen you for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant. If you or your family has a history of diabetes or gestational diabetes, you’ll most likely undergo testing much sooner.
Testing generally involves an initial glucose test. During this test, you’ll drink a sugary concoction. An hour later you’ll have your blood drawn and your blood sugar levels tested. If your blood sugar level is over 190 mg/dl, this indicates gestational diabetes. A blood sugar level of less than 140 mg/dl is within normal range and you’ve passed your glucose tolerance test.
If your blood sugar levels were higher than expected, you’ll undergo a second glucose tolerance test. This time you’ll drink a substance with even more sugar and have your blood drawn every hour for the next three hours. If you fail two out three measurements, you have gestational diabetes.
What are the complications of gestational diabetes?
Untreated gestational diabetes can cause problems for both mom and baby. Some complications your baby is at an increased risk for include:
- Large birth weight – babies who are over 9 lbs can get stuck in the birth canal resulting in the need for a C-section.
- Low blood sugar – sometimes the baby’s blood sugar levels will drop too low after birth. If it’s a severe drop, seizures can happen.
- Premature birth – High blood sugar can cause the baby to be born prematurely or the baby’s size may require an early delivery.
- Breathing problems – babies born too early can have trouble breathing because their lungs have not fully developed.
- Stillbirth – The risk of stillbirth is higher in women with gestational diabetes
- Higher risk of obesity and Type II diabetes later in life
Possible complications for mom include:
- An increased risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia
- An increased risk of needing a C-section because the baby is too large to fit through the birth canal
- Your risk of developing gestational diabetes in another pregnancy is higher
- A higher risk of developing Type II diabetes after delivery
What are the treatments for gestational diabetes?
Treatments for gestational diabetes include lifestyle changes, monitoring your blood sugar levels, and medications, if needed. Lifestyle changes, such as watching what you eat and exercise, can help you maintain and gain an appropriate amount of weight. Limiting sweets and refined carbohydrates will help prevent jumps and dips in your blood sugar levels.
Your healthcare provider may ask you to monitor your blood sugar levels with a blood glucose meter. These meters measure blood sugar with a small drop of blood from a finger prick. You’ll test yourself several times a day to make sure your blood sugar levels are within a normal range.
Sometimes your blood sugar levels can’t be maintained with diet and exercise alone. If this is the case, your provider may prescribe oral diabetes medications or insulin injections. Insulin injections are the preferred treatment because they’re safe for you and your baby. Research is still ongoing to find out the long term effects of oral medications
Can I prevent gestational diabetes?
Unfortunately there’s no sure fire way to prevent gestational diabetes. There are a few lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your risk. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and monitoring your weight gain are important changes to make, especially if you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
Along with eating a healthy diet, Pink Stork’s Total Prenatal + DHA can start you off on a healthy path to pregnancy. Adding on our Myo/Chiro Inositol 40:1 Blend can help support your hormones before, during, and after your pregnancy.
What happens after the baby is born?
For most women, gestational diabetes goes away shortly after the baby is born. Your healthcare provider should test you for diabetes 6 to 12 weeks after delivery. If your blood sugar is still high, you may have Type II diabetes. Even if your blood sugar levels go back to normal, you’ll need to be tested for diabetes every 1 to 3 years since your risk for developing Type II diabetes is greater. Eating a healthy diet and losing weight can help prevent diabetes in the future.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Gestational diabetes and pregnancy.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017). Symptoms and causes of gestational diabetes.Mayo Clinic. (2022). Gestational Diabetes.