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An Overview of Gestational Diabetes

July 6, 2020
Published in: Diabetes, Women

Pregnant woman eating breakfast in bed while reading

Pregnancy isn’t easy. For some, even becoming pregnant is only possible after a whirlwind of tests, treatments, and careful planning. After that, most women go through many more tests, doctor visits, and classes on the subject. The point here is that pregnancy on its own can already feel as if it is a closely monitored and manipulated task on its own—something that adds stress onto mothers and their families. So to add on yet another precaution during this period seems like making an already daunting process nearly unmanageable. But increased awareness of gestational awareness isn’t distracting you from having a healthy pregnancy—it’s keeping an eye towards one of the causes of a great many things that can go wrong.

Gestational diabetes is the presence of high blood sugar levels during pregnancy when those levels were normal before you were pregnant. At its worst, it can cause complications during and after pregnancy. Gestational diabetes also serves as an indicator for those women and children who may be more at risk for Type 2 diabetes further down the line. But when managed properly, it is entirely possible to have a healthy child with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

During digestion, the food you eat is broken down into many chemical parts including glucose. Glucose is used by the cells in your body to make energy and is carried throughout the body in the bloodstream. Your pancreas is responsible for creating a hormone called insulin. This hormone assists glucose in going from your bloodstream into your cells where it can be used properly.

During pregnancy, however, the placenta is introducing a wide range of hormones into the bloodstream a swell. Almost all of these hormones can interfere with insulin’s ability to manage your blood glucose levels. As pregnancy continues, your placenta produces even more of these hormones. If the body is unable to manage these increased blood sugar levels, then a diagnosis of gestational diabetes may soon follow.

There are certain factors that increase a woman’s likelihood of developing gestational diabetes.

Women who meet the following criteria should discuss gestational diabetes with their doctor early on—or ideally before becoming—pregnant:

  • Are older than 25

  • Have a personal or family history that includes Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes

  • If they have ever delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds

  • Are overweight, with a body mass index of 30 or higher.

What are the Risks of Gestational Diabetes?

For mothers, one of the most concerning factors of gestational diabetes is the increased likelihood that one might develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. According to the CDC, about half of women who develop gestational diabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes later on in life.

But gestational diabetes can still have plenty of adverse effects to the mother and unborn child during pregnancy as well.

For one, the extra glucose in the bloodstream can cross through the placenta into a gestating baby. This can cause a baby to become too large—over 9 pounds or more—which can increase the chances that there will be complications at birth. Larger babies are more likely to have shoulder dystocia, where their shoulders are too large to fit through the birth canal. This can lead to an increased likelihood of undergoing a C-section for delivery. This could also lead to a risk Mothers who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, as well, which can threaten the lives of both the mother and the unborn child.

What Can I Do If I Have Gestational Diabetes?

These risks are by no means certain. Gestational diabetes can be managed when diagnosed. Doing so involves watching very closely what you put into your body, as well as actively checking your blood sugar over the course of the pregnancy.

Preventing a diagnosis from happening is also possible. You can decrease your chances of receiving a diagnosis by eating healthy foods and keeping active prior to pregnancy. Choosing foods high in fiber and low in fat, while focusing on eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help reduce the risk factors at play in developing gestational diabetes. Furthermore, a brisk 30-minute walk, or another cardiovascular exercise, can also help in reducing the factors at play that might make you a candidate for gestational diabetes.

Fortunately, these practices are already factors that can reduce your likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes as well—meaning that the steps you are taking can be beneficial to your overall health no matter whether or not you may plan to become pregnant. Women who have a family history of Type 2 diabetes should make sure to incorporate these practices into their lives regardless of their plans to become pregnant.

If you have more questions about gestational or Type 2 diabetes and your risk at developing either, it is recommended that you speak to your health professional about what factors may put you at risk and how they might be mitigated.