Gestational Diabetes: Everything You Need to Know and How to Prevent It

If you are pregnant, it is important to be aware of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a condition that can…(continue reading)

If you are pregnant, it is important to be aware of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a condition that can occur during pregnancy and it increases the risk of complications for both you and baby. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about gestational diabetes: what it is, how to prevent it, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and how your pregnancy is affected by it. We will also discuss what happens to gestational diabetes after pregnancy. 

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. It is caused by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin to meet the increased demands of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually develops in the second or third trimester but can occur earlier in some cases. In one study, up to nine percent of pregnancies are affected during pregnancy by gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery, but pregnant women who have had gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes usually has no symptoms making it important to get tested for the condition between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. If there are symptoms, they are usually very mild with the most common ones being excessive thirst and urination. You may also feel very tired and have to eat more than usual to feel satisfied. It is also possible that you start snoring and have excessive weight gain. If you have any of these symptoms, please see your doctor right away.

The real risk with gestational diabetes is that it can increase your risk for other conditions while pregnant. Preeclampsia is a condition that can cause high blood pressure, swelling, and protein in the urine. It is also one of the leading causes of maternal death during pregnancy. There is a debate due to conflicting studies whether gestational diabetes can cause death, but it is possible. Macrosomia can be caused by gestational diabetes too, which is when your baby grows very large in weight during pregnancy. This often leads to a cesarean section birth.

Is there any risk factor for gestational diabetes?

There are several things that can increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes. The risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

  • Being over the age of 25
  • Having a family history of type II diabetes
  • Being obese or overweight before pregnancy
  • Having high blood pressure before your pregnancy
  • Having polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Previously diagnosed with gestational diabetes
  • Having the skin disorder acanthosis nigricans
  • Gaining excessive weight during a previous pregnancy, more than the normal gestational weight gain
  • If you are African-American, Pacific Islander, Asian American, Hispanic, or Native American you run a higher risk of getting it
  • Delivering a very large baby over 9 lbs. or having previously had a stillbirth
  • Being pregnant with multiples, such as twins or triplets
  • Previous blood sugar tests have been abnormal
  • Taking glucocorticoids

These are the main risk factors for developing gestational diabetes, although there could be others. If you suffer from any of these factors it is even more important to get tested for gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

What risks are there for the baby with gestational diabetes?

There are a few risks for the baby if the mother has gestational diabetes. The most common one is that the baby may be large, which can lead to problems during delivery. The baby may also have low blood sugar after birth, which is called hypoglycemia, due to their high levels of insulin in utero. Your child may have a greater risk of developing type II diabetes later in life too. Other risks include respiratory problems due to premature birth and obesity during childhood and adulthood.

The risks to the baby depend on how well the mother manages her gestational diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes and take good care of yourself and your baby, the risks are lower.

How can I help prevent gestational diabetes?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent gestational diabetes. The primary prevention measures include maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods. You should also try to get regular exercise, even if it is just walking. If you have high blood pressure, be sure to keep it under control. Lastly, get screened for gestational diabetes during your prenatal checkups as it helps prevent any adverse pregnancy outcome.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

As noted above, testing for gestational diabetes usually occurs between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy, although if your doctor thinks you are at risk for it you may be tested earlier. There are several different ways to diagnose gestational diabetes but the most common is through a blood test. One way to diagnose it is for your doctor to order an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) which measures how well your body handles sugar. This is done by taking a blood sample after you have fasted for eight hours and then again two hours after you drink a sugary beverage. Your doctor may also ask for a glucose challenge test (GCT) which is a one-time test that checks how well you tolerate glucose that doesn’t involve fasting.

How do you treat gestational diabetes?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will need to work closely with your doctor to manage it. Physical activity and controlling your diet with healthy food are paramount. This usually means following a special diet and regular exercise program during pregnancy, and sometimes taking medication as well, if necessary. You will also need to have regular blood sugar tests to make sure your levels are staying in check for a healthy pregnancy.

What happens to gestational diabetes post-pregnancy?

Most cases of gestational diabetes go away after pregnancy but it is important to follow up with your doctor and have regular tests of blood glucose levels. You are also more likely to develop type II diabetes later in life if you had gestational diabetes so be sure to stay on top of your health.

Summary

Gestational diabetes is a condition that some women develop during pregnancy. It can cause problems for both you and your baby. There are several risk factors for gestational diabetes, but they can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods. Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed with a blood test between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy and can be treated with diet and exercise. Most cases of gestational diabetes go away after pregnancy but it is important to follow up with your doctor. You are also more likely to develop type II diabetes later in life if you had gestational diabetes. If you think you have gestational diabetes or have more questions we recommend you talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

References and Sources:

NIH

Endocrine Web 

Mayo Clinic 

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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