Gestational diabetes or GDM is a type of diabetes that is normally developed during pregnancy. Typically, this condition goes away as soon as the baby is born. Although it happens during pregnancy, it is normally diagnosed on the later part of the gestation period because it only occurs between the 24th and 28th week. Therefore, a form of diabetes that is diagnosed during early pregnancy cannot be considered as gestational diabetes. But the diagnosis only indicates that the patient already had the condition even before their pregnancy starts.
There are about 18% of pregnant women who are likely to develop gestational diabetes. It typically starts once the body does not produce and use enough insulin that is needed for pregnancy. The lack of enough insulin results to preventing glucose from leaving the blood and changing it to energy. Once the build-up of glucose occurs in the blood, this will lead to hyperglycemia.
Since this diabetes occurs in a later period of pregnancy, it does not put the baby at risk of any birth defects, which are common in cases when diabetes is developed before the gestation starts. The level of blood glucose also automatically becomes normal after birth. Although the risk of birth defects is low, there are cases when the baby’s health may still be at risk if the condition is not treated or controlled immediately. Treatment is then recommended to be made as soon as the diagnosis is made to keep both the mother and baby healthy. Such risk can be significantly lowered by simply being aware of one’s blood glucose levels and taking necessary action right away if it is not normal.
Patients must also be aware of the complications that may happen later. For instance, pregnant women who are diagnosed with this condition are likely to have Type 2 diabetes later in their life. The same risk applies to their babies.
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
This condition is caused by the glucose build up in the blood, which is basically the effect of the blocked actions of the insulin in the mother’s body. The placenta that is supporting the baby is filled with important hormones that help with the baby’s development. Some of the hormones that are produced in the placenta are human placental lactogen, progesterone, and estrogen.
All these hormones, although helpful, is also the main reason why the mother’s body becomes insulin-resistant. The hormones prevent the cells in responding well to insulin and make it hard for the mother’s body to use them. This then causes a rise in the glucose level, which results to the development of gestational diabetes.
How Do You Get Gestational Diabetes?
About 18% of pregnant women are at risk of developing gestational diabetes as stated by the American Diabetes Association. However, the fact that it is likely to happen makes many expectant moms worried about the risk of developing the condition.
There are risk factors that can be considered to determine if you may be at risk of developing gestational diabetes. The risk factors are in range, but include:
- If you suffered from gestational diabetes in your past pregnancies
- You previously have birth to a baby that weighs over 9 pounds
- If your family has history of diabetes, specifically Type 2 diabetes
- Your age is more than 25 years old
- Have glucose present in your urine
- Is obese or overweight
- Is suffering from prediabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, a condition that involves high blood glucose levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes
Women who are African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander American, Hispanic/Latina or American Indian are also more at risk of developing the condition. The same goes with those women who are suffering from a disorder called PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome.
There may be a lot of risk factors that may make you more at risk of this condition. But there are also some actions you can take to lower your chances of developing gestational diabetes. The most important step you can take is to lose some weight and increase your physical activity if you are planning to get pregnant. Taking these actions is particularly important for women are planning to get pregnant but are overweight. By making the effort to do these, you can significantly improve how the body uses the insulin produced and keep your blood glucose levels stabilized.
You should stop trying to lose weight once you get pregnant. Instead, what you should focus now is to gain weight, but it should only be enough to ensure both of you and your baby’s health. Talk with your doctor if you want to know the right amount of weight you should gain.
Should I Be Worried about Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is only a temporary condition and starts disappearing after giving birth. Yes, there are risks that come with it, but these can be prevented as long as the condition are managed and controlled right away.
Some complications that may happen if the condition is not controlled immediately are:
- Type 2 Diabetes
For the Baby
- High blood glucose
- born with a condition called Macrosomia or having a larger body than normal
- Developing hypoglycemia after birth
- Breathing problems
- Increased risk of death after birth
Among the things you can do to prevent these risks from occurring is to establish a healthy diet and learn ways to control your blood sugar levels. A healthy and balanced diet may include lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grain carbohydrates. Regular exercise must also be included on your effort to keep your glucose levels stabilized. Including walking, yoga and swimming on your exercise routine can significantly help maintain an ideal weight and keep you and your baby healthy.
Other things you can do are getting extra antenatal appointments as well as scans to determine how well the baby is growing. You can also have your blood glucose levels checked regularly while you are in labor. In case that these actions do not help in controlling your condition, your GP may prescribe some medications you can take or insulin injections.