Gestational diabetes is when a woman who did not previously suffer from diabetes develops diabetes during pregnancy.
It occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin – a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels – to meet the extra needs in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually develops during the second trimester of pregnancy and, most of the time goes away after delivery. However, it may raise a woman’s chances of developing diabetes later in life.
How can gestational diabetes affect pregnancy?
If gestational diabetes is left untreated, it can be very harmful to both the mother and child. The baby could be at risk for a number of complications like jaundice, an increased risk of diabetes later in life, preterm birth, dangerously high birth weight, and respiratory distress syndrome — a condition in which the lungs aren’t well-enough formed to function on their own yet.
How can gestational diabetes affect a pregnant woman?
If a pregnant woman develops gestational diabetes, she has an increased chance of developing preeclampsia and is also more likely to require a C-section. She also has a higher risk of developing diabetes later in life, whether gestational or not.
Screening for gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes doesn’t normally cause any symptoms. Many of the cases are only picked up when the blood sugar level is tested during screening for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant. The oral glucose tolerance test is used to screen for it. It takes about two hours and involves having a blood sample taken in the morning when you’ve not eaten or drunk anything overnight (you can drink water, but check with the hospital if you’re unsure). You’re then given a glucose drink. After resting for two hours, another blood sample is taken to see how your body is dealing with glucose.
What are the risk factors for gestational diabetes?
Though any woman can develop gestational diabetes, some women are at greater risk. A woman is more likely to develop gestational diabetes if she’s significantly overweight with a body mass index of 30 or higher. She’s also more likely to develop gestational diabetes if she had it during a previous pregnancy or if she has given birth to a very heavy baby in the past. The risk also increases if she has prediabetes or a family history of diabetes.
What to do
The best treatment for gestational diabetes is prevention: eating healthily and exercising regularly. Avoid sugary food, processed foods, and fruit juices. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables and keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels to make sure that all is under control.
If dietary changes and exercise don’t reduce the blood sugar level enough, medications will be needed: tablets or insulin injections. The doctor will decide.