The CDC estimates that up to 10% of US pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes, which occurs even in non-diabetic women. Before you get alarmed, know that with testing and some careful monitoring of your diet and activity, you and your doctor can work together to manage gestational diabetes and minimize health risks both for your baby and yourself.
Here are eleven key things you need to know:
Gestational diabetes doesn’t usually have any special symptoms but does carry risk of complications.
This is why it’s critical to get tested. Gestational diabetes tends to appear around the 24th week of pregnancy, so getting tested around then is a safe bet. You might notice increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and nausea, but these often blend in with existing physical changes accompanying pregnancy.
Age and being overweight are the major risk factors.
Anything that makes you prone to insulin resistance—where your body is less responsive to insulin and therefore doesn’t take in glucose normally—makes you more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes may make your baby grow too large or be susceptible to preterm birth.
Large amounts of glucose in a mother’s bloodstream causes their baby to produce more insulin, which in turn may make them grow too large. Increased baby size along with increased maternal blood presssure (frequently accompanying elevated glucose) will make it more likely that your baby will be delivered early.
Insulin doesn’t cross the placental barrier, but glucose does.
Therefore, your baby will experience the effects of high blood sugar without the levels of insulin needed to address them.
Exercise is a powerful tool against gestational diabetes.
Physical activity forces your body to consume glucose without needing to rely on additional insulin, making it a great natural tool to combat insulin resistance. Additionally, it can help you manage your weight.
Your doctor will give you a glucose tolerance test.
A controlled sweet beverage will be given to you, and then your blood will be drawn an hour later. Depending on the results of this test, more testing might be performed to confirm whether you have any abnormalities, and assess what the best treatment would be. This test is administered between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Glyburide might be prescribed as an extra precaution.
This drug might be given to you to help manage your insulin resistance and prevent complications.
Patients taking metformin often report side effects including diarrhea and flatulence, so be aware of this and discuss with your doctor whether there are any steps you can take to keep yourself comfortable.
After birth, babies need to be monitored to make sure their blood sugar doesn’t suddenly drop too low.
This can turn into neurological developmental defects in your baby, since they no longer have the high blood glucose supply from their mothers. Monitoring and quick medical action can address this.
Keep monitoring both your baby’s and your health after birth.
By about six to twelve weeks after birth, both the mother and baby will likely have returned to normal blood sugar levels, assuming no other conditions are present. However, both are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life, so it’s important to watch diet and exercise, and keep an eye on blood glucose levels during physical exams.
Breastfeeding your baby can help prevent type 2 diabetes in both your child and yourself.
By providing your infant with the appropriate balance of nutrients while also giving your body some healthy exertion, both of you will enjoy reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
If you develop gestational diabetes in one pregnancy, you’re more likely to develop it in subsequent pregnancies.
Be proactive and plan out a strategy for management with your doctor.