Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It occurs in about 5% to 8% of pregnancies each year, usually in the second trimester. Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is defined as an intolerance to insulin. Women who were not previously diagnosed as diabetics but who have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy are at risk for developing gestational diabetes.
How Can Gestational Diabetes Affect My Baby?
Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause a number of problems at birth. Low or high blood sugar levels as well as jaundice are all possible side effects of babies born from mothers with gestational diabetes.
Furthermore, the American Diabetes Association warns that gestational diabetes also causes extra blood glucose to be circulated through the placenta. As a result, the baby’s pancreas will be forced to work overtime, producing extra insulin to get rid of the excess. This causes what’s leftover to be stored as fat, leading to higher than normal birth weight. For the mother, this will likely mean a more painful birth with a greater chance of cesarean section.
What’s worse is that overweight babies are more likely to be obese in childhood, putting them at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Indeed, contrary to the popular belief that children are primarily at risk for type 1 diabetes (previously referred to as juvenile diabetes), poor lifestyle choices including minimal exercise and poor nutrition has caused more and more to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
Hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy such as estrogen, cortisol and lacotogen – while vital for ensuring the overall health of the baby – actually prevent insulin in the body from doing what it is supposed to do: break down glucose into energy. As the placenta grows during the second and third trimester, even more of these hormones are secreted, causing the body to increase its resistance to insulin.
If for whatever reason your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to compensate for this, the glucose will not turn into energy but instead will stay in the blood, in effect causing gestational diabetes.
Who’s at Risk?
If you fall under one or more of the following categories, you are at risk for developing gestational diabetes:
- You are over the age of 25
- You are African-American, Aboriginal (or American-Indian), Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino, or a Pacific Islander
- Someone in your immediate family (sibling, parent) has been diagnosed with diabetes
- You are overweight
- You have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes before, or have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- You have been diagnosed with "pre-diabetes" or higher than normal blood sugar levels
If the last three of these risk factors apply to you than you are considered to be at high risk for developing gestational diabetes, and it is likely that your doctor will check your blood sugar levels on your first prenatal checkup. Otherwise, you will likely be tested somewhere between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.
Treatment: The Gestational Diabetes Diet and Exercise
Treatment almost always involves following a diabetes diet designed in consultation with your doctor, along with regular exercise and insulin (if necessary).
Diabetic meal plans tend to limit sweets or high sugar foods as well as starchy carbohydrates (such as pasta, rice and potatoes). Eating lots of fiber is important to a gestational diabetes diet. Eating frequently and in small amounts is also encouraged, as it helps to maintain more constant blood sugar levels.
Regular, moderate exercise such as walking and swimming is also important for maintaining normal blood sugar levels. However you should always consult with your doctor about what type of gestational diabetes exercise is best for you.
With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, you can reverse the effects of gestational diabetes as well as significantly reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
For more information on how gestational diabetes might effect you and your baby, check out this informative page on pregnancy-info.net.