If you are pregnant or hoping to get pregnant and haven’t heard of gestational diabetes, don’t worry—you’ll soon know all about it!
As one of the most common pregnancy conditions, gestational diabetes is something that doctors know to look for in all expecting mums. If you want to be ahead of the curve and know what your doctors will be looking for, keep reading to learn all about gestational diabetes.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy and typically lasts until the baby is born. The two other kinds of diabetes that exist are Type I and Type II, in which the body produces either no insulin or too little of it (or the body cells don’t react to it), respectively. Insulin, which helps the body break down glucose in the bloodstream, is essential for ensuring the proper balance of sugar in the blood. When you have too much or too little glucose for an extended period of time, you have diabetes. Unlike the other two types, diabetes in pregnancy does not usually end up being a chronic condition.
However, this doesn’t mean that gestational diabetes should be taken lightly, as it can cause damage to your organs, blood vessels, and nerves if left untreated. Furthermore, women with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop preeclampsia, another pregnancy condition involving high blood pressure that requires regular monitoring.
Diabetes in pregnancy can also lead to health problems with your baby, including high birth weight, which can cause delivery complications and increase the chances of needing a C-section. Additionally, babies that are born overweight are more likely to struggle with high blood sugar and obesity themselves in childhood.
Causes of diabetes in pregnancy
When a woman is pregnant, her body requires more insulin than usual in order to cope with the extra glucose that’s necessary for the baby to grow. Sometimes, though, the hormones that are associated with the placenta prevent your body from creating enough insulin and absorbing it into the tissues. As a result, too much glucose remains in the blood stream. Doctors are not completely sure what causes this to happen to some women and not others.
Gestational diabetes: Risk factors
Despite not knowing the exact reason that the placental hormones interfere with insulin production in some pregnant women, doctors and scientists have been able to identify a number of factors that can increase your risk for developing this condition. Though all expecting mums will have their glucose levels tested as part of their prenatal check-ups, doctors will pay closer attention to those with:
- A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher: being overweight is connected to both Type II diabetes and gestational diabetes.
- Type II diabetes: someone who already deals with diabetes will almost certainly need to continue managing it during pregnancy.
- A diagnosis of pre-diabetes before becoming pregnant: if your body is already on the path to developing diabetes, pregnancy could be what pushes it over the edge.
- A history of pregnancy with gestational diabetes: women who have had it during a previous pregnancy are more likely to develop in subsequent pregnancies as well.
- A family history of diabetes: there is a genetic component to gestational diabetes, so having a family member with either Type II diabetes or who had gestational diabetes puts you at a greater risk.
- Certain ethnicities: African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women have higher rates of gestational diabetes than other ethnicities.
- Doctor’s orders for bed rest: if you have a medical condition that requires you to spend many hours lying or sitting instead of being active, you are also at a greater risk.
Gestational diabetes symptoms
As mentioned previously, all pregnant women will be tested for gestational diabetes as part of standard prenatal testing. However, early diagnosis is key to keeping the condition under control. So here are some signs of gestational diabetes:
- You are extremely thirsty or suffer from dry mouth and throat.
- Despite this, you are urinating frequently and in a large quantity.
- You also feel more fatigued or tired, even than what you should expect while pregnant.
- You are suffering from recurring infections such as thrust or urinary tract infection.
- Your vision is blurred.
- You have suddenly started snoring or feel that your nasal passages are frequently blocked.
How to treat gestational diabetes
Once your doctor receives a positive result after a few rounds of glucose testing, he will diagnose you with gestational diabetes. Treatment is necessary for your health and the health of your baby, so you’ll have to pay close attention to your condition during your whole pregnancy. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Check your blood sugar levels throughout the day: you’ll need to have a diabetes kit, which includes a tool that pricks your finger for a small blood sample and analyses the sugar content. You’ll need to do this in the morning and after every meal.
- Follow a strict meal plan: your doctor may send you to a special nutritionist who can customise a meal plan that suits your tastes, lifestyle, and medical needs. Typically, you will need to avoid foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates.
- Write it all down: you should also keep a food log, in which you’ll write what you have eaten and in what quantities, as well as what your glucose levels are like after eating. This way, you can begin to see patterns and learn which foods are especially triggering and which are safe.
- Supplement your diet with insulin: your doctor may also give you insulin tablets that you can take if your blood sugar can’t be controlled by diet and exercise.
- Take medication: If none of the other measures seem to be keeping the situation under control, your doctor may also prescribe a medication called glyburide that makes your body produce more of its own insulin.
As simple as it sounds, staying active can help lower your blood sugar. You can just try taking a light walk after eating but, of course, and as long as it's possible, doing regular exercise is the most helpful!
How to prevent gestational diabetes
While no one can control their family history, there are some measures you can take to decrease your chances of developing diabetes in pregnancy. One of the most important factors within your control is weight. Because having a BMI of over 30 dramatically raises your risk, you could try to get down to or maintain a healthy weight before getting pregnant. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are the recipe for success, and also help keep your risk lower, even if you do have a higher BMI.
Now that you know all about gestational diabetes, hopefully you can see that it’s nothing to panic about. If you do happen to be among the 10% of pregnant women who have to deal with the condition, you’ll be well prepared! The most important thing is to monitor the condition, eat the right foods, and try to stay active. Of course, if there are any further complications, your doctor will always be there to help you.