Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy in a woman who has never had diabetes before. The condition goes away after the pregnancy ends, but once you’ve had gestational diabetes, it’s more likely to recur in future pregnancies. The diagnosis also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Understanding Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes causes abnormally high maternal blood sugar (glucose) levels during pregnancy and can impact the health of both mother and baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate as many as 9.2 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes places a woman at higher risk for high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication associated with high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine.
Babies of mothers with gestational diabetes may:
- Have higher birth weights due to increased insulin production triggered by high blood sugar levels. Some infants become too large to pass through the birth canal, requiring C-section delivery
- Develop low blood glucose soon after birth due to increased insulin production. The condition is treated with breast milk, formula or IV glucose to prevent seizures
- Be at increased risk for preterm delivery, since high blood glucose levels can precipitate early labor
Causes of Gestational Diabetes
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, but we do know pregnancy hormones produced by the placenta interfere with insulin action in the body and create a need for increased insulin production. If the body can’t make enough insulin to keep up with this extra demand, blood glucose builds-up, leading to high blood sugar levels and gestational diabetes.
Symptoms & Treatment of Gestational Diabetes
Most women have no symptoms and high glucose levels are typically discovered on a glucose-screening test done between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. If test results are positive, your OB/GYN will schedule a longer glucose tolerance test to determine whether or not you have gestational diabetes.
Treatment of Gestational Diabetes
If gestational diabetes is diagnosed, it is important to closely monitor your blood glucose level each morning and after meals using a home blood glucose meter.
Steps to control blood sugar levels include:
- Eating a healthful diet – lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with limited fat and processed carbohydrates
- Regular exercise – helps keep blood sugar levels down by burning glucose
If diet and lifestyle changes are not enough, your obstetrician may prescribe insulin or oral medication to control blood glucose levels.
Your baby’s growth and health will also be closely monitored.