Gestational diabetes strikes without warning during an otherwise uneventful pregnancy. It usually is diagnosed between the 24th and the 28th week and occurs in 2-10% of all pregnancies. But what is gestational diabetes, how does it affect the mother to be, and how will it affect the developing baby? In this article, we will discuss in details about gestational diabetes.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes affects women who were not diabetic before their pregnancies. It results in high levels of blood glucose in otherwise normal women during pregnancy.
While it isn’t a guarantee that the expectant mother will remain a diabetic after delivery, it can increase the odds that they will go on to develop type two diabetes.
While it isn’t entirely clear what causes the condition, it is believed that the increase in two key types of hormones, those affecting the insulant resistance levels in the body and human placental lactogen, may go into hyperdrive, increasing the body’s resistance to insulin.
Insulin is what counteracts and regulates your body’s blood sugar. The hormones that increase the resistance to insulin are necessary for pregnancy, allowing your blood to produce more sugar to pass on to the developing baby. If they get out of whack, though, they will lead to dangerous levels of sugar in the mother’s blood as well as the baby’s.
When this happens, it is called gestational diabetes.
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes:
It is rare to have life-altering symptoms of gestational diabetes, and some of the symptoms that you exhibit may not be much different than the symptoms you are already experiencing during pregnancy.
- Increasing urges to urinate
- Exaggerated thirst
- Blurry vision
Some of these may have already been a part of the weight gain of your pregnancy, such as increased urges to urinate caused by the squeezing of your bladder as the baby develops or snoring at night and fatigue. Other signs may be so subtle that you don’t recognize them at all, much less suspect that you have developed gestational diabetes.
The Risk for Developing Gestational Diabetes:
As with ordinary diabetes, some common risk factors increase your odds of developing gestational diabetes. These include:
- Multiple fetuses
- A family history that includes diabetes, high blood pressure, or certain ancestries such as African, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Native American, or Asian
- Gaining a significant amount of weight during the pregnancy
- Being overweight at the start of the pregnancy
- A history of having developed gestational diabetes in prior pregnancies
- A history of miscarriage or stillbirth in the prior pregnancy
- Being over the age of 25 during the pregnancy
Diagnosing Gestational Diabetes:
Because the symptoms of gestational diabetes can be very subtle or even non-existent, your physician will schedule you for a routine test between weeks 24 and 28 of the pregnancy. The test will be either a “one-step” or a “two-step” test, depending on your history and risk factors.
For a one-step test, you will need to be fasting. Your doctor will perform the first blood glucose test. Then, you will be instructed to drink a high carbohydrate beverage. After an hour, they repeat the blood glucose test, then repeat it one more time at two hours.
The two-step test is not a fasting one. You will need to drink a sugary solution, then your blood is tested after an hour. If your blood glucose rises above 130 mg/dl, you will need to return for another test, this one a fasting one, on another day.
During the second test, you will have a fasting baseline glucose level drawn, followed by the sugary solution and more tests on hours one, two and three.
The problem with these tests is that they may be time consuming and inconvenient, but they are very important to ensure the health of you and your baby.
Treating your Gestational Diabetes:
Much like diabetes mellitus, gestational diabetes is classified into two categories. These types are Type A1, which can be controlled by dietary changes, and Type A2, which will require administration of insulin or another medication.
If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will be treated much as an ordinary diabetic. If you are diagnosed with A1, you will be required to monitor your blood sugar regularly, make healthy dietary choices, and stay active to control your weight.
Type A2 is much less common, affecting only ten to twenty percent of those women diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and would require medications to control.
Gestational Diabetes Complications:
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you should take it seriously. Ignoring the condition can have adverse effects on the baby, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased risk of developing diabetes later in life
- High birth weight
- Low blood sugar levels in gestation
- You also run the risk that your diabetic condition will remain with you after delivery.
Helping to Prevent Gestational Diabetes:
While gestational diabetes can affect an expectant mother, there are some steps you can take during the early stages of your pregnancy to reduce the risk of developing it.
Eating while pregnant will be a balancing act of nourishing the baby and maintaining healthy glucose levels. Optimally, your diet should include many small healthy meals, as often as two hours apart, to keep your blood sugar levels from dipping too low.
Your total carbohydrate intake should equal only about 50% of your daily caloric intake, or up to about 200 grams of carbs per day. You can find healthy carbs in vegetables, fruits, grains, and rice.
Protein is important, too; aim for 60 grams of protein daily. Fats aren’t all bad, and you should include healthy fats in your complete diet. Avocado, nuts, and seeds are examples of sources of healthy fats.
Watching your weight gain during pregnancy is important. Stay fit and active with low impact exercise, walking or swimming throughout your pregnancy. If you are overweight and planning on becoming pregnant, try to lose as much of the weight as you can before trying to conceive. Every bit of excess weight you lose before pregnancy can help lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes.