November is American Diabetes Month, which is why we wanted to spend a little extra time focusing on a condition that affects 7 out of every 100 pregnant women: gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes unique to pregnancy. It typically subsides after childbirth, but some studies have suggested that women who have had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life. In this blog, we’re answering some of the top questions about gestational diabetes, including the causes, risk factors, and methods to manage this condition.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have elevated blood glucose levels during pregnancy, despite never having diabetes before. Elevated glucose levels in the blood occur when the body cannot make insulin or use it properly. Glucose is consumed from the foods we eat and serves as our body’s fuel source. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and transports glucose from the blood to the cells. Without insulin, all of the glucose that would be transported to the cells ends up remaining in the blood, which, when left untreated, can lead to health problems for both mother and baby.
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
While the exact causes of gestational diabetes are still unknown, some factors may contribute to gestational diabetes. Hormones from the placenta may make it more difficult for insulin to function properly. Carrying excess weight prior to pregnancy may also play a role in developing gestational diabetes. Other risk factors include having a first-degree relative member with diabetes, older maternal age, having PCOS, certain ethnicities such as being Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or African American, or having a previous baby with a weight of 9+ pounds. Unfortunately, researchers still haven’t been able to pinpoint what causes the onset of gestational diabetes in some women but not in others.
How Does Gestational Diabetes Effect the Baby?
By working with healthcare professionals and following a treatment plan, most women with gestational diabetes can control their blood sugar and deliver healthy babies. Untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes may lead to health issues for the baby. When left untreated or poorly controlled excess blood glucose levels cross the placenta, passing along high blood glucose levels to the baby. In an effort to control these elevated blood glucose levels, the baby’s pancreas is forced to make more insulin to transport the glucose, which ends up in an excess amount of energy that has to be stored as fat. This can cause baby to gain too much weight. This increases the risk of a difficult delivery with possible birth trauma to mom or newborn or requiring a c-section. Poorly controlled gestational diabetes can lead to health issues for the newborn, including possible low blood sugar, breathing problems, heart issues, and jaundice. It also increases the baby’s risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity later in life. While gestational diabetes occurs during only pregnancy, if you already have type 1 or type 2 diabetes it is very important for you to have good blood sugar control prior to getting pregnant to reduce risks of birth defects or miscarriage.
How Do You Know If You Have Gestational Diabetes?
Screenings for gestational diabetes are typically administered at the 24 to 28 weeks mark of pregnancy. The diagnosis can be solidified through the use of an oral glucose tolerance test. Because gestational diabetes does not usually exhibit any symptoms, it’s important to stay up to date with your prenatal screenings and appointments.
How Do You Manage Gestational Diabetes?
While healthy eating is crucial in every pregnancy, gestational diabetes emphasizes the importance of healthy food choices to keep blood sugar levels from getting too high. As a general rule of thumb, those with gestational diabetes should eat regularly to keep blood sugar levels consistent. Monitoring the baby’s growth and development, checking blood sugar levels, and staying active are key to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. The Triangle Physicians for Women providers are here for you to answer any questions you may have about gestational diabetes. We are also proud to offer nutrition services by a registered dietitian/certified diabetes care and education specialist who creates personalized meal plans for our patients with gestational diabetes.
Talk To An OB/GYN
The team at Triangle Physicians for Women is here for you in all stages of your life. If you have any questions about gestational diabetes or nutrition during pregnancy, please reach out. 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 electronically under the Contact Us tab.