My sister is a very healthy person — a walk or bike to work everyday healthy person. She trains for road bike races and surfs regularly. She was so excited for the arrival of her first baby. She had researched the best cribs and carseats to buy. She spent hours reading about what to expect and how to deal with a new baby and the changes that come with it. However, she was not ready to be told that she had Gestational Diabetes. It came as a huge shock. She suddenly had to worry about her health and the baby's health. Just like many people she had questions: What is Gestational Diabetes? What does it do to my baby? Why do I have it? How is it treated?
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Just like regular diabetes, Gestational Diabetes causes elevated blood sugars that need to be controlled. However, symptoms of Gestational Diabetes are not always as easy-to-recognize. It is not a lasting condition. Blood sugar levels return to normal shortly after the baby’s birth.
Gestational Diabetes is thought to be caused, in part, by hormones released in pregnancy. These hormones make it difficult for the mother’s body to make or use enough insulin. It occurs in women who have never had diabetes but have elevated blood sugars during pregnancy. This condition affects approximately 18 percent of all pregnancies. It can not only affect mom’s health but the baby’s health as well.
How does it affect baby?
Because Gestational Diabetes affects mom late in the pregnancy, it does not cause the birth defects that a mother who had diabetes prior to pregnancy risks. The large amounts of blood sugar that mom can pass along to the baby can cause the baby to get more energy than its body needs. This extra energy is stored as body fat and can make the baby large at birth. These babies can experience face and shoulder injuries during birth, preterm birth, respiratory problems, low blood sugars due to their high levels of insulin production, jaundice, an increased risk of childhood obesity and an increased risk of Type II Diabetes later in life.
While anyone can develop Gestational Diabetes, there are some risk factors that increase that chance. Women who have increased risk factors are older than 25 years old, have personal or family history of any type of diabetes, have babies over nine pounds, have had an unexplained stillbirth, are severely overweight or are of a non-white race (Mayo Clinic, 2011). Some of the consequences for mom include an increased risk of high blood pressure during the pregnancy, an increased risk of Gestational Diabetes in subsequent pregnancies and an increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes.
Control of Gestational Diabetes is usually diet and exercise. A doctor or educator can help mom come up with meal plans that will help keep blood sugar lower. A schedule of planned physical activity can also be created to help mom keep levels low. Daily glucose testing is usually required with the aim being blood sugar levels that are equivalent to a pregnant person without Gestational Diabetes. In some cases, the doctor will also prescribe insulin to help control blood sugar. It should only be used according to the doctor’s orders. Once you have had Gestational Diabetes, it is a good idea to check your blood sugar periodically since you are at an increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes.
The best way to approach Gestational Diabetes is with a proactive attitude. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor and be evaluated. Follow up as the doctor recommends. If diagnosed, then follow the prescribed treatment and medication plans to ensure the best outcome for you and the baby.