Gestational diabetes means potential complications for you and your baby. Fortunately, most women can manage their gestational diabetes through healthy eating and regular exercise.
Pregnancy is a time of many changes, some of them expected and some maybe less so. One lesser-known change can occur when your placenta produces hormones that interfere with the regular function of insulin in your body. Insulin moves blood sugar from your bloodstream into your cells for energy, and when it can't do that, blood sugar can build up in your bloodstream. For about 9 percent of American women, it can build up too much and lead to gestational diabetes.
When considering how to treat gestational diabetes, the first thing to understand is that it's not the same as type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that usually resolves after you give birth, though women who have had gestational diabetes may be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Gestational Diabetes Considerations
According to the Mayo Clinic, most women who have gestational diabetes are able to easily manage it and deliver healthy babies. Women who have trouble maintaining their blood sugar levels may experience complications including greater birthweight, premature delivery, or the need for a cesarean delivery (C-section). Rarely, gestational diabetes may increase the risk of preeclampsia, a serious condition characterized by high blood pressure.
Causes and Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes
Researchers don't yet understand why gestational diabetes develops in some women and not others. They have, however, determined factors that put a woman at a greater risk, including:
- Being overweight or obese, or gaining too much weight during pregnancy
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Pregnancy over the age of 25
- Being black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian
Diagnosing Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes usually has few or no symptoms. For an accurate diagnosis, women usually undergo a glucose test between twenty-four and twenty-eight weeks, though women who are at higher risk may want to be tested earlier. The test simply determines whether or not your body is producing enough insulin to process glucose adequately.
How to Treat Gestational Diabetes
If you're diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you'll want to start a treatment program right away to control your blood sugar levels and reduce your risk for complications. A treatment plan usually consists of the following steps:
- Frequent doctor visits to closely monitor your blood sugar levels and the health of the baby.
- A healthy diet that emphasizes fruit, vegetables, and high fiber foods that are low in fat and calories but high in fiber and nutrition.
- A regular exercise program, tailored to your fitness level and condition. Exercise helps control your weight, lower your blood sugar levels, and may even relieve some muscle aches and pains caused by your pregnancy.
- Monitoring your blood sugar regularly at home, as well as at the doctor's office. Careful monitoring of your blood sugar, as directed by your doctor, can help determine if your diet and exercise program is working. If not, you may need medication.
- Insulin or other medication may be necessary if lifestyle changes are not effective.
After Giving Birth
Although your blood sugar levels will likely return to normal after your baby is born, you should still get a diabetes test six to twelve weeks after birth. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), if your postpartum test is normal, it's still a good idea to get tested for diabetes every three years. Additionally, they recommend that you continue to monitor your baby for risk factors and symptoms as they grow.
When properly diagnosed and treated, gestational diabetes is very manageable and typically results in a normal and healthy birth and baby. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor about options for testing and treatment.
By Joelle Klein
ACOG, FAQs: Gestational Diabetes
Medical News Today, Preeclampsia: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
American Diabetes Association, How to Treat Gestational Diabetes
National Institute of Health, Gestational Diabetes
Mayo Clinic, Gestational Diabetes