Gestational Diabetes (GD) is a common health concern for pregnant mothers. Here’s how GD can affect you and your baby.
Gestational Diabetes, or Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (commonly referred to as GDM), occurs during pregnancy when an expectant mother develops high blood sugar. This happens as a result of the body not producing enough insulin — a hormone that manages our blood sugar levels.
A relatively common pregnancy concern, gestational diabetes affects 1 in 8 pregnant women in Australia, and 10% of all expectant mothers in the US [1, 2]. Thankfully, gestational diabetes is a condition that usually disappears after the delivery of the baby .
In this article, we’ll look at the symptoms of gestational diabetes, what causes it and what you can do if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Symptoms of gestational diabetes
While gestational diabetes can happen at any stage of pregnancy, it is more common in mothers during the second or third trimester .
So, how can you tell if you have gestational diabetes?
Although gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed during a screening, there are some symptoms you might notice if your blood sugar gets too high, such as :
- Increased thirst
- Having to urinate more frequently
- Having a dry mouth
Even without any symptoms present, you will still have health check-ups done as part of your prenatal care, which will pick up potential pregnancy concerns such as gestational diabetes.
Testing for gestational diabetes
To identify and confirm gestational diabetes, an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) is usually offered to pregnant women between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.
If you have higher health risks, symptoms of diabetes or a history of gestational diabetes, the OGTT could be offered earlier in your pregnancy and repeated at weeks 24 to 28 — if the first test indicates normal glucose levels .
How does gestational diabetes affect the mother and baby?
Gestational diabetes can have health implications on not just the mother, but also the baby.
Risks to the mother
Pregnant women that have gestational diabetes are more likely to [5, 6]:
- Have gestational diabetes again during future pregnancies
- Develop Type 2 diabetes in the future
- Require delivery via caesarean section (C-section)
- Have high blood pressure and preeclampsia
Risks to the baby
Gestational diabetes to the mother can have both short and long term effects on the baby. Here are some ways in which babies can be affected [5, 6]:
- Excessive weight, or excess growth (macrosomia): High blood sugar can cause babies to grow too large and have extra fat, which can cause difficulties during delivery. These include getting stuck in the birth canal or requiring a C-section birth.
- Premature birth: The risk of early labour is increased due to higher blood sugar, and early delivery could be recommended if the baby grows too large.
- Have low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia): Babies could develop low blood sugar after birth due to high insulin production, which may require treatment. This low blood sugar can be regulated back to normal with prompt feedings and an intravenous drip of glucose solution.
- Higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life
- Potential stillbirth
Who is at greater risk of developing gestational diabetes?
Pregnant women who have never been diagnosed with diabetes can still get gestational diabetes. You could be at greater risk of developing gestational diabetes if you [5, 6]:
- Are overweight before pregnancy
- Are not physically active
- Are above 35 years of age
- Are on long-term steroid medication
- Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Have family history of diabetes, particularly among immediate family members
- Have a history of diabetes in pregnancy
- Have a history of having big babies (more than 4kg)
3 Tips to help prevent gestational diabetes
To help reduce the risk of getting gestational diabetes even before pregnancy, you should strive to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.
#1 Stay active
Get your heart pumping! Exercising is key to helping you prevent the development of gestational diabetes as it can help to lower blood glucose levels.
Aim to exercise 30 minutes daily, both before and during your pregnancy. While being pregnant reduces the range of exercises that you can do, there are still plenty of ways for you to keep fit, such as brisk walking, swimming and prenatal yoga.
#2 Eat healthy
Ensure that you maintain a healthy diet that is low in sugar. This means saying no to sugar-loaded snacks like candy, cookies and sweet drinks. Instead, add vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fibre to your diet. If you are unsure where to begin, you can try following a diabetic’s meal plan.
Food selection aside, you should also watch your portion sizes to ensure that you don’t overeat. If you’re trying to conceive, you should also start consuming vitamins and supplements to ensure that you consume ample nutrients.
#3 Watch your weight
Being overweight before pregnancy can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. If you are trying to conceive, try to maintain a healthy weight and lose the extra kilogrammes in order to have a healthier pregnancy.
When pregnant, you might be encouraged to eat more since you’re now eating for 2. While weight gain during pregnancy is healthy, don’t gain more weight than what is recommended.
Treatment for gestational diabetes
While it’s best to be able to control our blood glucose levels through exercise and a healthy diet, those that are unable to lower their blood sugar levels will require medication in order to keep their blood glucose levels in check.
Your doctor could prescribe insulin tablets or injections as medication to help you regulate your blood glucose levels. You could also be required to do the following :
- Check your blood sugar levels regularly
- Check your urine
- Keep track of your weight
This comes on top of having to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. You are also likely to be monitored more closely, with more antenatal appointments, to watch out for any potential problems that may arise.
The medications that you take to control gestational diabetes can be stopped after the delivery of your baby. As gestational diabetes typically goes away after you give birth, your doctor will check your blood glucose levels via another OGTT about 6 weeks post-delivery .
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