The Ins And Outs Of Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman develops diabetes during pregnancy when she was not diabetic before pregnancy. The CDC suggests about 6% to 9% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. However, this condition can be tricky because most women do not experience any specific symptoms. This is why going to all of your scheduled prenatal appointments is essential, as doctors will test for this disease. If you do have this type of diabetes, you may require more frequent check-ups, and your blood sugar will need to be closely monitored. 

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

There is no clear reason why some women develop gestational diabetes, and others do not. However, it is related to how your body processes glucose during pregnancy. In pregnancy, the placenta will produce higher levels of various hormones to help the baby develop and grow, as this is where your blood supply is connected to the baby. These hormones can decrease the efficiency of insulin, causing high blood sugar. As the baby grows, so do the levels of these hormones, and when the body does not adjust and blood sugar remains too high, gestational diabetes develops.

You may be at higher risk of developing this type of diabetes if any of these factors relate to you:

  • Being significantly overweight with a BMI of 30 or higher
  • Being older than 25 years old
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Having a history of prediabetes
  • Being of certain races. With no clear cause, mothers who are Latinx, American Indian, Asian, or Black are at greater risk.

What Complications are Associated with Gestational Diabetes?

Because this type of diabetes occurs after the baby’s systems have formed, it doesn’t lead to structural birth defects. However, because the baby is growing and putting on weight during the time when gestational diabetes develops, it can still have serious effects. It can also lead to health problems for the mother, which can affect the baby and complicate delivery.

A few complications may include:

  • Extra-large babies: Because the baby is basically overfed, the baby can grow very large. Babies over nine pounds can get wedged in the birth canal and sustain birth injuries. 
  • Risk for diabetes later in life: A baby whose mother had gestational diabetes is more likely than others to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Mothers who develop gestational diabetes are also at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes after the child is born and in future pregnancies.
  • Low blood sugar at birth: It may seem like a contradiction, but sometimes babies born to mothers with this type of diabetes have low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. This is because after they are born, the baby’s insulin production is still high from coping with the high blood sugar from their mother. 
  • Risk of preterm birth: A mother with gestational diabetes is at a greater risk of going into labor early. This is due to the effects of high blood sugar. Or, the baby may become too large, and the doctor will recommend early delivery. Preterm birth has its own set of risks, including respiratory distress syndrome, which makes it difficult for the baby to breathe. 
  • High blood pressure and preeclampsia: High blood pressure and preeclampsia risks all rise with the presence of gestational diabetes. Preeclampsia is a serious complication that can endanger the lives of both mother and baby.

How is Gestational Diabetes Treated?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will need to work with your doctor closely to determine how to manage your blood sugar. There is no “cure”, yet your regular OB/GYN or a specialist will recommend taking steps such as:

  • Monitoring blood sugar often
  • Regular physician-approved exercise
  • A special meal plan for controlling blood sugar
  • Insulin, if prescribed
  • Testing for diabetes right after childbirth and then every one to three years

Can Gestational Diabetes be Prevented?

While there is no guarantee that you can avoid developing gestational diabetes, you can take steps to lower your risk. All of these lifestyle habits should be long-term and are good rules to live by regardless of your reproductive state.

  • Maintain a healthy diet before and during pregnancy.
  • Stay physically active while trying to get pregnant and continue a physician-approved exercise routine throughout the pregnancy.
  • Lose any excess weight before you get pregnant. This will reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes and can also help you get pregnant. 

Kernodle OB/GYN’s expert physicians and nursing staff have experience in dealing with high-risk pregnancies and pregnancy complications. If you have questions or concerns, check out our website or give us a call for more information.

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