According to the centers for disease control, gestational diabetes occurs in about 9.2% of pregnancies. Just like type 2 diabetes, the incidence of gestational diabetes is rising.
Women with gestational diabetes usually do not have any symptoms. This is why it is important to screen for it in all pregnant women.
How gestational diabetes is diagnosed
Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed after 24 weeks of pregnancy. If diabetes is diagnosed before 24 weeks, more than likely this is type 2 diabetes. Your healthcare provider will order a test called the oral glucose tolerance test. For more information about the oral glucose tolerance test, click here.
The cause of gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is felt to be caused by insulin resistance just as in type 2 diabetes. The high levels of insulin cross the placenta into the baby. The excess insulin converts glucose into fat. Babies born to women with gestational diabetes usually have a high birth weight of over 9 lbs. This is because they are large. This can lead to the baby getting injured as it is being delivered through the birth canal. If the baby is too large to be delivered naturally it may have to be delivered by cesarean section. Cesarean section is major surgery and just like any surgical procedure there are inherent risks to both the mother and the child. A woman who has a cesarean section may have to have another cesarean section in future pregnancies.
Treatment for gestational diabetes
Women with gestational diabetes will need to be monitored very closely by an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. This is to prevent complications to the mother as well as the unborn child. Sometimes these appointments may be on a weekly basis as the pregnancy advances. It is important to know when these appointments are and to keep them.
Diet and moderate exercise are usually the first steps to treating gestational diabetes. If a woman has not been physically active before getting pregnant this is not the time to start a vigorous exercise program. Starting a walking program is a good idea, however it is important she speak with her healthcare professional prior to starting any physical activity.
If diet and exercise do not get control the blood sugars, then it may be necessary to start on medications. A lot of women are started on insulin because it allows for better control of insulin. It is also important that to check blood sugars frequently when pregnant with diabetes. Just as in type 1 or type 2 diabetes this can be taught and will need to be done at home several times a day. It is important to inform your healthcare provider if the blood sugars are not in the target range.
Gestational diabetes and future risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Gestational diabetes usually resolves after pregnancy. However women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There is also a chance for recurrence in future pregnancies.
Risks for developing gestational diabetes
- Certain ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latina, or Native Americans
- Having borderline diabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Being over the age of 25 years
Steps to reduce gestational diabetes
Just as in type 2 diabetes prevention is the key. Taking preventive steps does not reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes to zero, but it is still a step to having a pregnancy with few complications and delivering a healthy baby.
Here are a few steps every woman planning a pregnancy can take to reduce her risk of developing gestational diabetes
- Try to get as close as possible to your ideal body weight prior to getting pregnant.
- Start an exercise program. I am a proponent of walking as a simple form of exercise. If you are planning to get pregnant now may not be the time to start training for a marathon, but it is easy to start walking. Purchase a fitness tracker and commit to walking 10,000 steps a day.
- Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. These contain nutrients rich in antioxidants, is a good source of fiber. Fiber helps with weight control. Fruits and vegetables are also a good source of folic acid that is necessary to prevent birth defects and support a healthy pregnancy. Juicing is an excellent way to get a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet.
- Get an annual physical. Inform your healthcare provider that you are planning a pregnancy and they may order some blood tests such as a fasting glucose, lipid profile and blood chemistry. For instance if you find out through blood tests that you have borderline diabetes, you can take some pro-active measures prior to getting pregnant.
Diabetes in pregnancy affects both a woman’s health as well as the health of her unborn baby. To avoid complications, it is important to seek medical care during pregnancy and to follow the advise of your healthcare professional.
To your health and wellbeing,