What you Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes
One in 20 previously non-diabetic women will develop gestational diabetes during her pregnancy. Since this condition arises in the 28th week of pregnancy, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are not at a risk for birth defects. However, there are health risks for both baby and mother if this condition is not brought under control.
What is it / when does it develop?
During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that make it difficult for a woman’s body to produce insulin. (Insulin is needed in the body to convert sugar (glucose) into energy for cells.) This causes insulin resistance, and a pregnant woman may need up to three times the amount of insulin her body is producing. Because there is not enough insulin to convert glucose to energy, glucose builds up in the blood. Insulin cannot cross the placenta – but glucose can. When all the glucose that is building up in the mother’s bloodstream enters the baby’s blood, the baby’s pancreas starts over-producing insulin to get rid of it. The baby’s body is forced to store all this glucose-fuelled energy as fat – resulting in a larger, heavier baby.
Who is at risk?
Women from certain ethnic groups (Aboriginal, Hispanic, African, Asian and South Asian descent) are at a particular risk for developing this condition. Being overweight, over the age of 35, and having a history of gestational diabetes are also risk factors. How is it diagnosed? There are no obvious symptoms of gestational diabetes, so it is standard to be tested for this around the 24th-28th weeks of the pregnancy as a precaution. This test is called the glucose tolerance test.
How is it treated during pregnancy?
After diagnosis, treatment must begin immediately. This usually includes regular low-impact exercise (like walking), a diet low in refined sugars and high in fruits and vegetables, and close monitoring of glucose levels (both independently and with a doctor). If insulin levels do not naturally decrease with these measures, insulin shots are necessary.
Risks for baby?
After birth, babies can have low blood sugar, experience problems breathing, and be jaundiced. Since the baby is larger, their shoulders can sometimes be injured during birth. Weight control is difficult for these babies, and obesity is common as the baby grows. Babies have a higher chance of later developing Type 2 diabetes (although the chance is decreased if the mother breastfeeds the baby).
Risks for mother?
Vaginal delivery is sometimes impossible or very painful because babies are larger and heavier than average. This also increases the chances that the woman will require a caesarean. Implications for the future After giving birth, mother’s blood sugar levels return to normal and, 90% of the time, gestational diabetes disappears. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life, as well as experiencing a two in three chance of recurrence in future pregnancies.
What can you do to prevent gestational diabetes?
If you have developed gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, there are certain things you can do to delay or avoid the onset of Type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet and watching portion sizes is important for maintaining a healthy body weight. Being even 20 percent heavier than your ideal body weight puts you at risk. Shed this weight through healthy eating and regular exercise.