Gestational diabetes is a condition in which women develop high blood sugar levels during pregnancy and are diagnosed with diabetes for the first time during pregnancy. This condition typically develops between weeks 24–28 of pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that gestational diabetes occurs in 2% to 14% of all pregnancies in the United States.
In this article, we will take a closer look at what gestational diabetes is, the potential complications that this condition can cause, and how you can prevent and manage gestational diabetes.
Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes
Although anyone can develop gestational diabetes, some women have an increased risk of developing the condition. This includes women who have high blood pressure, have a family history of diabetes, was overweight before becoming pregnant, have had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth, have taken steroids like glucocorticoids, or have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
In some women who develop gestational diabetes, the diabetes is reversed after the baby has been born. However, gestational diabetes does increase both you and your child’s risk of developing diabetes in the future. By properly managing your gestational diabetes, there is a lower risk of you and your child developing diabetes in the future and the possibility of complications for you and your baby during pregnancy and delivery is also decreased.
The symptoms and causes of gestational diabetes
Even though it is rare that gestational diabetes causes any specific symptoms, there are still some mild symptoms that can occur. These include fatigue, blurred vision, increased thirst, increased urination, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, and yeast infections.
Even though the exact cause of gestational diabetes is not yet known, hormones likely have a role to play here. During pregnancy, your body produces a higher level of some hormones, and this is essential for the pregnancy. However, these hormones can also increase your insulin resistance and as these hormones build up during the pregnancy, they can make the body resistant to the hormone insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels by transporting glucose from the blood into the cells in which it is used for energy. During pregnancy, it is actually natural that your body becomes slightly insulin resistant since this allows for more glucose to be available in the blood to be passed to the fetus. The problems arise if this insulin resistance becomes too strong since this can cause your blood glucose levels to rise abnormally, and this can cause gestational diabetes.
How does gestational diabetes impact my pregnancy?
If gestational diabetes is not managed appropriately, it can cause complications during the pregnancy and birth of the baby. It can for instance increase your risk of high blood pressure which can be threatening to both you and your baby. Gestational diabetes can cause also cause excessive birth weight in your baby and this can, in turn, cause problems during birth. These problems include a higher likelihood of your baby becoming wedged in the birth canal, having birth injuries, or needing a C-section birth.
If left untreated, gestational diabetes can also increase your risk of early labour, and it can cause breathing difficulties and low blood sugar levels in the baby. If gestational diabetes is not properly managed it can also increase your risk and your child’s risk of developing diabetes later in life. Therefore, it is very important to learn how to reduce your chances of developing the condition and how to manage gestational diabetes if you have it. Read on to learn more about the prevention and treatment of gestational diabetes.
Prevention and treatment of gestational diabetes
Although it is not possible to entirely prevent gestational diabetes from occurring, you can decrease the chances of developing gestational diabetes by incorporating health-promoting habits into your life. As always, a nutritious diet and regular exercise are two good ways to increase your overall health. Focus on spacing out carbohydrate-rich foods to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels and eat whole-grain carbohydrates. Getting adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats are also important parts of a nutritious diet. These are also great habits to adopt if you are overweight since being overweight is one of the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes. Furthermore, it is always important that you seek prenatal care and follow all doctor-recommended visits to receive the appropriate screenings and evaluations during your pregnancy.
If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, the type of treatment you receive will depend on your blood sugar levels. Based on this, gestational diabetes is divided into two classes:
Class A1: Gestational diabetes that can be managed through diet alone
Class A2: Gestational diabetes in which insulin or oral medications is needed to manage the condition
If you have gestational diabetes A1, it is common that your doctor will advise you to test your blood sugar levels before and after you eat, and usually, the condition is managed by a nutritious diet and regular exercise. If you have gestational diabetes A2, your doctor can also prescribe insulin injections or other insulin medication and you will then be advised on when and how to use the insulin.
Although we have seen that gestational diabetes can cause serious complications for both you and your child, there are several ways to manage this condition. Your doctor will find the treatment plan appropriate for you based on your specific case. However, a nutritious diet and regular exercise are two golden habits to both prevent and treat gestational diabetes, and these habits are also significant for increasing your overall health!