What is gestational diabetes and how can it affect your pregnancy?
Definition of gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a condition where previously non-diabetic women exhibit high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. In modern pregnancies, this condition is tested for, and your doctor can tell you if you have a problem.
What causes this condition?
Scientists are unsure what causes gestational diabetes, but you may be at higher risk if there is a family history of the condition, or if you are over a certain age (older moms). There are also theories that hormones produced (estrogen, cortisol and human placental lactogen) can reduce the effectiveness of insulin (the hormone that lowers your blood sugar levels). The result is an inability to lower blood glucose levels to normal levels. This normally manifests from about week 20 – 24 of the pregnancy and may increase in severity as the placenta grows and produces more of the hormones. The pancreas can normally increase production of insulin to handle this, but in some cases, if the pancreas cannot respond, it is thought gestational diabetes results.
What are the symptoms
Women with gestational diabetes mellitus generally have no symptoms, so you need to be checked between week 24 and week 28. There are some warning signs that you may notice like:
- Increases weight gain
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Recurring vaginal infections
Be aware though that the above symptoms are quite often symptoms of a normal pregnancy as well.
What are the risks involved?
There are risks to both mother and baby. Let's consider them separately.
Risks to the mother:
If left untreated, this condition can affect the nervous system, circulatory system and urinary systems of the mother. The mother is also at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy. Recent research has shown that mothers with gestational diabetes are at increased risks of cardiovascular disease after pregnancy.
Risks to the baby:
Babies tend to be bigger than usual, which can mean an episiotomy is needed, or caesarean section. Children born to mothers with the condition can also be over-weight as children and suffer other health problems.
What tests will I need to have during my pregnancy?
You have a variety of tests during your pregnancy, but the one related to gestational diabetes is an oral glucose tolerance test taken between week 24 and week 28 (though testing procedures may vary depending on your country).
When you arrive for the test (in a fasted state), you will have blood drawn and glucose measured. You will then be asked to drink a sugary liquid. Every hour after that, more blood is taken and tested. The doctors are looking for an inability to lower the glucose levels to safe limits during the three hours. There are specific targets your body should meet in terms of glucose levels after each of the three hours.
Treating gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes treatment can include a number of approaches including:
- Eating healthy food in the form of a balanced diet
- Exercise program
If these methods don't correct the inbalance, you may need insulin shots.
During the pregnancy, mothers with gestational diabetes need to take special care, and should have regular checks on blood sugar levels (you can buy home testing kits) and your babies growth will be monitored regularly.
Why is exercise important?
Not many people enjoy exercising, but for mothers with this condition, it is necessary since exercise helps use up the extra blood glucose circulating your body without the need for more insulin. However, you should talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you are pregnant!
Combined with a good diet plan, exercise is a major benefit to all pregnant mothers whether they have this condition or not and can prevent elevated blood glucose levels. Not only will you feel better, but you'll put on less weight, and be in better shape for the delivery, and then motherhood.
What happens to gestational diabetes after my baby is born?
Your blood glucose levels should quickly go back to normal after the baby is born, although you should check your blood glucose a few weeks after the birth the confirm this.