November is National Diabetes Month. This is a month when a significant focus is placed on raising awareness for various forms of diabetes. While much attention tends to be directed towards the most common forms such as Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, there is another form that can potentially affect pregnant women and their baby. This form is referred to as gestational diabetes. Here are six facts expecting women should know about gestational diabetes.
1. Diagnosis of gestational diabetes usually occurs in the middle of pregnancy
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops in a woman who did not have any form of diabetes prior to pregnancy. Doctors most often test for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks into the pregnancy. Women who develop gestational diabetes may require more frequent checkups.
2. There are no known causes for gestational diabetes
While researchers have yet to determine an exact cause for gestational diabetes, there may be a few clues within the placenta. The placenta supports the baby as it grows and hormones from the placenta assist in the baby’s development. However, these hormones tend to block the action of the mother’s insulin inside her body. This is referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it difficult for the mother’s body to use insulin.
Gestational diabetes occurs when the body is not able to make or use all the insulin necessary for pregnancy. Without enough insulin, glucose is unable to leave the blood and be changed to energy, which causes glucose to build up in the blood to high levels (hyperglycemia).
3. There are risk factors
Some women have a greater chance of developing gestational diabetes. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:
- Overweight and obesity
- A lack of physical activity
- Previous gestational diabetes or prediabetes
- Diabetes in an immediate family member
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Previously delivering a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Race: Women who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.
4. Gestational diabetes can be managed
Women with gestational diabetes can help manage it by eating healthy foods, exercising, and if necessary, taking medication. Controlling blood sugar can keep the mother and the baby healthy and prevent a difficult delivery. Usually, blood sugar returns to normal soon after delivery. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes. They will need to be regularly tested for changes in their blood sugar.
5. Unmanaged gestational diabetes can lead to complications for both the baby and the mother
Complications that may affect the baby include:
- Excessive birth weight
- Early (preterm) birth
- Serious breathing difficulties
- Low blood sugar
- Obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life
Complications that may affect the mother include:
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia
- Having a surgical delivery (C-section)
- Future diabetes
6. There are steps to take to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes
There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing gestational diabetes, however, there are healthy choices that can lower a woman’s risk of developing it.
- Eat healthy foods
- Stay active
- Start pregnancy at a healthy weight
- Do not gain more weight than recommended during pregnancy
To schedule an appointment
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Triangle Physicians for Women, you may do so by calling (919) 678-6900 or requesting an appointment online.