In this article:
- What is gestational diabetes
- Risk factors
What is Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a simply a type of diabetes that gets detected in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before she was pregnant. Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose) and can affect the pregnancy and the unborn baby’s health. It usually shows up in the middle of pregnancy between 24 and 28 weeks and is usually tested for around that time as well.
A big worry about gestational diabetes is what it can do to a baby. Babies born to mothers who have gestational diabetes are more likely to:
- be born early
- grow very large
- have breathing problems
- have jaundice
- have low blood levels of calcium or glucose just after they’re born
We know any news of complications during pregnancy can be scary, but with gestational diabetes, blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery and you can still have a healthy baby with help from your doctor and by eating healthy, exercising and taking your prescribed medications to manage your blood sugar level.
The exact cause or reason some women develop is not known but researchers believe that it could be related to the buildup of glucose without the required complimentary level of insulin produced by the pancreas.
So, here’s how it works. Your body digests the food you eat to produce sugar that enters into your bloodstream, as that happens, a gland called the pancreas produces insulin which helps move the glucose from the bloodstream into your body cells to be used as energy.
During pregnancy, the placenta, which connects your baby to your blood supply, produces high levels of hormones that can impair the action of the insulin and lead to a buildup of glucose in your blood which ultimately increases your blood sugar level leading to gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can affect any woman but certain women have a higher chance of getting gestational diabetes if:
- You have a family history of diabetes
- You were overweight before your pregnancy with a significant body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
- You have high blood sugar levels prior to your pregnancy
- You have had gestational diabetes before
- You are older than 25 years
- You have given birth to a large baby who weighed more than 4.1kg at birth
High blood sugar level that isn’t properly controlled can lead to problems for both mother and child.
- High blood pressure (Preeclampsia): Most women with diabetes have high blood pressure, and this can cause harm to both mother and child. It might lead to the baby being born early and also could cause seizures or a stroke (a blood clot or a bleed in the brain that can lead to brain damage) in the woman during labor and delivery.
- Excessive birth weight. Extra glucose in your bloodstream crosses the placenta, which triggers your baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin. This can cause your baby to grow too large (macrosomia), and likely making the baby to be wedged in the birth canal and sometimes requiring a C-section delivery.
Early (preterm) birth and respiratory distress syndrome. High blood sugar may increase the risk of having an early labour and babies born this way may experience respiratory distress syndrome and require help with breathing until their lungs are matured enough
Future diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life as they get older.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Sometimes babies of mothers with gestational diabetes develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth because their own insulin production is high. Severe episodes of hypoglycemia may provoke seizures in the baby. Prompt feedings and sometimes an intravenous glucose solution can return the baby’s blood sugar level to normal.
To treat gestational diabetes, your doctor will
- Advice you to eat a healthy diet
- Ask you to exercise regularly
- Conduct urine tests
- Prescribe medication if necessary
- Check your blood sugar level regularly
- Lose excess weight before getting pregnant