Everything you need to know about Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes has become a lot more common medical complication for pregnant women in recent years with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that about 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes every year. Except in some cases, a pregnant woman may not be aware that she has gestational diabetes especially as the screening test is usually carried out in the second trimester (between 24 to 28 weeks) of pregnancy. Screening for gestational diabetes is only done early into the pregnancy if the woman is at a high risk of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs in two classes, class type A1 and class type A2. While class A1 can be managed through food and exercise, class A2 women will need to take insulin and other medication to control it. Critical to mention also is that gestational diabetes develops in women during pregnancy and constitutes a huge risk especially to the baby if not properly managed.
If you are a woman about to get pregnant, or you are already pregnant but you have not been diagnosed, or even if you have already been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, this article covers everything you need to know about gestational diabetes including symptoms, causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is also known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). It is a condition that develops in pregnant women in which your blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy. It often affects women who have no prior history of diabetes. Medical complications are never good news but here’s the thing about this particular condition, if properly managed, you can go on to have healthy babies and the condition doesn’t affect the woman after the pregnancy but also, the fetus can get affected thereby having increased glucose level and increasing the size of the fetus as well as the risk of the baby having hypoglycemia. Gestational diabetes also increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in your life.
Several risk factors can increase the risk of having gestational diabetes, some of which includes:
- Having a prior history of gestational diabetes
- Being obese
- Having being diagnosed with diabetes before you got pregnant
- Being on bed rest for a long term
- Having a family member who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
- Having a medical condition that is associated with the development of diabetes such as polycystic ovary syndrome or acanthosis nigricans
- If you have given birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds previously
- If you are expecting multiple births
- Race; if you have Native American, African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic heritage
What causes gestational diabetes?
Medically the exact causes of gestational diabetes are yet unknown with medical experts yet to pinpoint the causes although understanding the medical condition gives us a likely clue as to the cause which is your hormones.
Normally, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin when you eat which helps to move glucose (sugar) from your blood to your cells which requires energy.
During pregnancy though, your body goes through some changes including producing special hormones that help through the pregnancy process. The increased production of these hormones may cause your body to become insulin resistant as they block insulin and when this resistance becomes too strong, your glucose level starts to rise at an abnormal rate and you begin to gain weight which can cause gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes symptoms
It is safe to say that most pregnant women don’t usually notice signs of having gestational diabetes hence the important need for screening tests to be carried out during pregnancy. In some cases, you may have:
- Increased thirst
- Increased frequent need to urinate with the urine coming in large amounts
- You may also feel hungrier than usual and eat a lot more than usual
But these are signs that could mistakenly be put down to expected signs as a result of being pregnant.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
The diagnosis test to be carried out for gestational diabetes is crucial especially because the symptoms are less likely to surface for a pregnant woman. For a pregnant woman without a prior history, the test is usually carried out when you are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant.
Depending on your doctor, blood tests are usually used to diagnose gestational diabetes. These tests could be the glucose challenge test, the oral glucose test, or in some cases both of them to show your body’s response to glucose.
Glucose challenge test
Also called the glucose screening test, your doctor may decide to begin with this test first. You will be given a sweet liquid to drink which contains glucose and your blood will be taken after 1 hour of taking the liquid. If your result turns out to be about 140 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or above, that means that your glucose is too high and you will need to return to take the oral test. If your result returns 200 mg/dL or more, it may mean that you have type 2 diabetes. For this test, you do not have to stay away from food or drink.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
For the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), you will need to stay without food or drink for at least 8 hours before taking the test. Your doctor will take your blood after which you will be given the glucose-containing liquid to drink. Your doctor will need to take your blood repeatedly for the next 3 hours to be able to diagnose gestational diabetes.
If at least two or more points of your blood sample being taken your glucose level is high, which means that you have gestational diabetes.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you skip the glucose challenge test and take the oral glucose tolerance test.
Gestational diabetes prevention
When it comes to preventing gestational diabetes, there are no guarantees but having and cultivating more healthy habits before pregnancy can help you stay healthier and better. If you have a prior history of gestational diabetes, maintaining these habits may as well reduce the risks of recurrence in the future.
Maintain a healthy diet
This is probably a critical point that cannot be overemphasized because of its importance. Maintaining while appearing seemingly simple is one of the most difficult for some women to keep up with especially with cravings, junks, food aversions during pregnancy. Unknown to many, having a balanced pregnancy diet can help you to gain a healthy amount of weight.
Foods that have high fiber content and low fat and calorie content are the right type of foods to be eaten. Foods such as legumes, whole grain (bread, oatmeal, brown rice), poultry, fish, beans, vegetables, fruits. It is best to avoid fatty foods, sugary beverages (energy drinks, sodas, juices) and try to limit your intake of processed foods in your meals. Foods such as processed meat, cheese, palm, and coconut oils have no place being in your meal.
Finally, on this particular point, learn to try to eat in small portions instead of eating heavy portions at a time.
Exercise and stay active
It is important to stay active and try to do exercises to protect your body from gestational diabetes. Before you get pregnant is the best time to start keeping a regular fitness schedule. It is very vital as exercising can help the body stay active and regulate the blood sugar levels of the body.
You don’t necessarily need to do long and strenuous exercises but you can be consistent with simple ones such as taking short walks, doing fun leisure activities like cycling, swimming. You can also do some running from time to time, taking the stairs at times, parking at a distance from work, and walking the rest of the way. The idea is basically to expend energy to ensure that you keep your sugar levels in check.
Pay a visit to your doctor regularly
Do ensure you keep your doctor updated with developments as you get closer to your EDD. See a gynecologist and get an ultrasound examination to monitor the developments and changes to the fetus. Regularly check your weight to be sure you are not adding too much weight more than is normal and expected.
Gestational diabetes treatment
If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, well it’s not a death sentence at all. While a lot of questions and worry may have beclouded you, there’s the good news; it can be controlled and you can go on to have a healthy baby. Yes, you can!
There are a few things your doctor would probably recommend you do after you’ve been diagnosed:
Watch your diet
You will be required to make changes to your diet to help control your sugar levels. Seeking the help of a dietician will not be out of place if you find it a little difficult so that you can plan on healthy meals to eat. Include more protein-based foods in your meal and also, fresh fruits and vegetables are a must to have included in your meal as well. They can also be very handy for you when you have cravings for something to snack on.
Eat balanced diet meals in small portions with legumes, whole grains, fiber, healthy fats constituting a large percentage of your meal. Your intake of fried food, alcoholic beverages, processed foods should be at best limited just as should your intake of sugary beverages.
Engage in exercise
There are safe ways to exercise and simple exercises you can engage in regularly when pregnant to help lower your blood glucose level. Speak with your doctor to know the exercises that are safe to engage in and how long is advisable to spend doing those exercises.
Usually, a change of diet and exercise should be able to help control gestational diabetes but if after doing these for a while and there are no changes, your doctor could recommend that you be given medication that you can stop using after you give birth.
Metformin, a tablet is usually prescribed with side effects including loss of appetite, stomach cramps, and feeling sick. Insulin injection is another medication you may be given if you have too much fluid in your womb, your blood sugar is very high or you are severely affected by metformin.
Gestational diabetes FAQ
What are the risks my baby could be subjected to if I’m diagnosed with gestational diabetes?
If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your baby can start to grow in size leading to macrosomia, a condition where your baby is too big which can lead to difficulties while trying to deliver your baby. Also, it can lead to medical complications for your child upon birth and later in life such as jaundice, obesity, low blood sugar levels, and type 2 diabetes.
It is right to say that if properly controlled, a woman will not have gestational diabetes after delivery but research has shown that there is a possibility that women who have a prior history of gestational diabetes have a chance of developing type 2 diabetes which is why it is important to continue to maintain healthy habits even after delivery of your baby. Stay fit and healthy, eat balanced diet meals, breastfeed your baby for as long as possible as recommended by your doctor and keep up regular check-ups to ensure regular testing.
Although the source of gestational diabetes is not definitively known and there are no completely guaranteed prevention methods, ensure you do your bit to keep you and your baby healthy. It is very normal to gain some weight when you are pregnant but be conscious not to gain too much weight too quickly and also don’t try to lose too much weight when you’re pregnant. Talk to your doctor and dietician about how much weight you should gain.