Today we're talking about gestational diabetes, a pregnancy complication that can have some serious consequences for your baby if left untreated.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is when a woman who did not have diabetes before getting pregnant develops diabetes during her pregnancy. Your doctor will likely test for it between weeks 24 and 28, as it usually shows up around the middle of your pregnancy.
Most of the time there are no noticeable signs or symptoms, except possibly increased thirst and more frequent urination. That being said, it’s important for your doctor to make sure your blood sugar is monitored to protect you and your baby.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Speaking biologically, this condition develops when your body’s ability to process glucose is impaired. Some research points to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy as a contributing factor. Your blood sugar levels are moderated by hormones, and during pregnancy these hormone levels change, possibly making it harder for you to process blood sugar efficiently, leaving higher levels in your bloodstream.
This condition can develop as a result of a number of possible risk factors:
The first risk factor is existing obesity, or excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Excess weight can contribute to the presence of excess sugar in your bloodstream, which could lead you to develop gestational diabetes. Make sure to communicate with your healthcare provider about what healthy pregnancy weight gain looks like for you.
Another key factor is lack of physical activity, which can often be connected to the first two factors. Make sure you are getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Next is PCOS. PCOS is a hormonal disorder involving an overproduction of androgen, a male hormone, in the body. Androgen can also lead to insulin resistance, which exacerbates your risk of developing diabetes. For more on PCOS, click here.
Other contributing factors involve your personal medical history. If you have a family history of diabetes, you have previously had gestational diabetes, or you have previously delivered a baby over 9 pounds, you are at greater risk for this condition.
Lastly, your race can also be a factor. According to recent studies, women who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American have a higher risk of developing this condition during pregnancy.
How do I know if I have gestational diabetes?
Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure and check your blood sugar as part of your regular prenatal care. Screening typically includes a glucose challenge test to measure your blood sugar level, and then follow-up glucose tolerance testing. Taken together, these results will alert your doctor of any elevated blood sugar levels.
It’s a good idea to discuss your personal risk of gestational diabetes with your healthcare provider early on in your pregnancy, so they can help you monitor any risk factors you might have.
If you do develop this condition, you will likely need to see your doctor more often for regular checkups, especially during the last three months of your pregnancy. This way, they can monitor the health of you and your baby, and act swiftly if any complications arise.
What does gestational diabetes mean for my pregnancy?
If you do develop gestational diabetes, you will likely need to see your doctor more often for regular checkups, especially during the last three months of your pregnancy. This way, they can monitor the health of you and your baby, and act swiftly if any complications arise.
It is really important to make sure any case of gestational diabetes is properly monitored. Left untreated, gestational diabetes could cause major risks to the health of your baby, including stillbirth or death shortly after birth.
Even properly monitored, gestational diabetes can make your pregnancy riskier. The risks include:
Increased chance of C-section
Gestational diabetes can cause your baby to grow too large, running the risk that they become stuck in your birth canal or have birth injuries. If your baby is too large you may need to have a C-section.
Increased risk of preterm birth
High blood sugar may increase your risk of early labor and deliver.
What does gestational diabetes mean for my baby?
Sometimes babies born early to mothers with gestational diabetes develop respiratory distress syndrome and have a hard time breathing. They also have a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. Your baby could also develop hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, but this can usually be treated with prompt feedings and sometimes an IV glucose solution. These are all outcomes your doctor can prepare for through careful monitoring of your condition.
What does gestational diabetes mean for me?
Gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication you can read about here. After you give birth your blood sugar should return to normal, but having gestational diabetes during pregnancy does increase your risk of diabetes in the future.
How can I prevent gestational diabetes?
First, there are no guarantees. However, you can adopt healthy habits before pregnancy that might help lower your risk of developing the condition.
1. Eat a healthy diet.
Choosing the right foods to put in your body can help. Strive for a varied diet that is high in fiber and low in fat. Make sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
2. Keep active
Before and during pregnancy, get into the habit of moving your body. Try to strive for 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. Whether that’s a daily walk, boxing class, or yoga, get moving!
3. Communicate with your doctor
If you are looking to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about what your weight should look like during pregnancy. Starting your pregnancy at a healthy weight for your body can help lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can sound scary, but we are here to support you! If you have more questions, concerns, or just want to chat, you can schedule a telehealth appointment with one of our healthcare providers anytime! Just click here.