What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Diabetes is when glucose, or blood sugar, levels are above normal. Insulin is necessary to keep blood sugar in check. If there is insufficient insulin or the body has developed insulin resistance, diabetes occurs.
This type of diabetes typically develops around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. It’s usually due to insulin sensitivity. Even though the pancreas is making sufficient amounts of insulin, it’s unable to do its job to keep glucose levels in check.
Causes of Gestational Diabetes
The exact cause of gestational diabetes isn’t fully understood, but several factors are believed to contribute to its development. These include:
1. Hormonal Changes: During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can interfere with the body’s ability to use insulin effectively. This hormonal imbalance leads to insulin resistance.
2. Genetic Predisposition: Women with a family history of diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes. Genetics play a role in how the body processes glucose.
3. Excess Weight: Being overweight or obese before pregnancy increases the risk of diabetes, mainly because there is already some level of insulin resistance.
4. Age: Women aged 25 and older are at a higher risk. The risk increases with age.
5. Ethnicity: Black women, Hispanic women, Native American women, and Asian American women have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes often does not cause noticeable symptoms. However, some women may experience:
1. Increased Thirst: A persistent feeling of thirst and the need to urinate frequently.
2. Fatigue: Unexplained tiredness and weakness.
3. Blurred Vision: Vision changes may occur due to high blood sugar levels.
4. Frequent Infections: Women with gestational diabetes are more prone to urinary tract and vaginal infections.
These symptoms are not exclusive to gestational diabetes and can occur with other pregnancy-related conditions. Therefore, it’s essential to talk to your OB/GYN if you have any of these symptoms.
Gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. OB/GYNs usually recommend this test for all pregnant women. Your doctor may recommend testing earlier if you have risk factors. The most common diagnostic test is the 1-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).
For this test, you will drink a sugary beverage called glucola. Your glucose level will be tested in 1-hour. If your blood sugar level is more than 140mg/dl, your doctor will recommend a 3-hour OGTT test to determine if you have gestational diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes Treatment
Managing gestational diabetes is important for the health of both the mother and the baby. There are several components in managing this type of diabetes. These are similar to steps taken to manage Type II diabetes.
1. Dietary Changes: A registered dietitian will help create a balanced meal plan that controls blood sugar levels while ensuring proper nutrition for you and your baby. You’ll need to avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. It’s important to eat complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and lentils. Your doctor may recommend eating at regular intervals to avoid glucose spikes.
2. Physical Activity: Regular, moderate exercise can help regulate blood sugar levels. The goal is for 30 minutes, five times a week. A good way to start is with a 10-15 minute walk after each meal.
3. Glucose Monitoring: Regularly monitoring your blood glucose will help you track progress. This can be done with a traditional glucometer, where you prick your finger to get a drop of blood, or with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
4. Insulin Therapy: In some cases, insulin injections may be required to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Insulin does not harm the baby and is safe to use during pregnancy.
5. Frequent Check-ups: You’ll need regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor diabetes. That way, changes to your treatment plan can be made quickly if required.
How to Prevent Gestational Diabetes
While some risk factors for gestational diabetes, like age and genetics, cannot be changed, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk:
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight: If you plan to become pregnant, achieving a healthy weight before conception is helpful. This can reduce the risk of diabetes.
2. Eat a Balanced Diet: Adopt a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Limit your intake of sugary and ultra-processed foods.
3. Get Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, such as walking, to help regulate blood sugar levels.
4. Manage Current Health Conditions: If you have preexisting conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or prediabetes, talk to your doctor before becoming pregnant. They can help you understand the best way to manage your condition to have a successful pregnancy and avoid diabetes.
What is a normal blood sugar level?
A normal fasting blood sugar level typically falls between 70 to 100mg/dL. After meals, it may temporarily rise but should return to the normal range within a few hours.
What happens if gestational diabetes is not controlled?
Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to complications such as a larger birth weight of the baby, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or respiratory distress syndrome for the baby. It may increase the risk for the mother of developing long-lasting Type 2 diabetes.
How do I avoid gestational diabetes?
To reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, maintain a healthy weight before pregnancy, eat a balanced diet, and engage in regular physical activity.