Maintaining regular, prenatal care appointments is a very important part of a healthy pregnancy. Your prenatal practitioner can help to ensure that your pregnancy is progressing smoothly and that your baby is healthy and happy. She can also alert you to any possible pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a fairly common problem during pregnancy, yet many women still are not aware of their risk.
If you have developed gestational diabetes, you may want to write about your experience and help educate other women. Afterall, without treatment, gestational diabetes can be a cause for concern. It's important for those that are diagnosed to regularly take blood glucose tests to ensure glucose levels are safe for the mother and the child. Untreated gestational diabetes can increase your baby's risk of certain health complications and may also impact upon your own health.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy. It happens when the glucose (sugar) levels in your bloodstream become too high. Typically, insulin produced by your body helps to convert blood glucose into energy, which can then be used by the body. Diabetics, however, cannot process blood glucose as efficiently due to a resistance to insulin.
Gestational diabetes affects between 2% and 7% of all pregnancies, with about 135,000 cases appearing in the United States every year. Usually, gestational diabetes disappears on its own after birth, however, it will require special treatment during pregnancy.
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
The cause of gestational diabetes remains unknown, but it has been linked to hormones produced by the placenta. Your placenta nourishes and protects your baby during pregnancy. It also produces special hormones that help support your baby's growth and development. However, these hormones sometimes block the ability of insulin to process blood glucose, which could lead to gestational diabetes.
Who's At Risk for Gestational Diabetes?
Any pregnant woman can be affected by gestational diabetes although certain factors do appear to increase your risk for developing the condition. These risk factors include:
- being obese
- being over the age of 30
- having previously experienced gestational diabetes
- having a family history of diabetes
- having hirsutism
- having polycystic ovarian syndrome
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes may occur with or without noticeable symptoms. Some possible signs of gestational diabetes include:
- excessive thirst
- excessive hunger
- frequent urination
Complications Associated with Gestational Diabetes
If you are experiencing gestational diabetes, it is important to seek appropriate medical treatment. This is because both you and your baby can experience health complications as a result of the condition. Blood sugar from your body will pass through your placenta, into your baby's bloodstream. In an effort to process this extra sugar, your baby's pancreas will produce extra insulin, converting this sugar into energy. Your baby will then store this energy as fat. This can lead to a complication known as macrosomia, or "fat baby," which puts your baby at risk for:
- damage to the shoulders, muscles, and nerves during labor and birth
- low blood sugar after birth (which can lead to respiratory problems)
- Type 2 diabetes in adulthood
Gestational diabetes also increases your risk for:
- having a cesarean section (due to large baby)
- developing gestational diabetes with subsequent pregnancies
- developing Type 2 diabetes
Diagnosing Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes can be detected through a screening test known as a glucose tolerance test. This is given to women who are at high risk for gestational diabetes. It is typically performed between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.
Before the test, a sample of your blood will be drawn from your arm. You will then be asked to drink a liquid high in glucose. More blood samples will be drawn one and two hours after you have ingested this drink. All of the blood samples will then be tested for glucose levels. Women with gestational diabetes tend to have blood sugar levels that remain high for long periods of time.
Treating Gestational Diabetes
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will be asked to perform some lifestyle changes. You will need to:
- follow a special gestational diabetes diet
- exercise regularly
- take regular blood glucose tests
Your practitioner may advise that you take insulin if it appears that your baby is becoming too large. However, this only occurs in about 15% of cases. Your baby will be monitored throughout the final weeks of your pregnancy using ultrasound tests.
After birth, it is likely that your gestational diabetes will disappear, though it may take several weeks. Some women may continue to have diabetes, although this is generally due to having undiagnosed diabetes prior to pregnancy.
It is wise for you to continue following a special diet and exercise routine after your pregnancy to decrease your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. 50% of women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy go on to develop Type 2 diabetes within five years of birth.