Stephen Pedron, MD, is an OB/GYN on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center specializing in maternal-fetal medicine. His office can be reached at (623) 362-2266.
Question: I’m 23 weeks pregnant and will be screened for gestational diabetes at my next doctor’s visit. I don’t have a family history of diabetes. Can it really be caused by pregnancy?
Answer: Gestational diabetes is a condition that develops only during pregnancy. Like type 1 and type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. It typically appears late in the second trimester. True gestational diabetes resolves soon after delivery. Given that gestational diabetes doesn’t usually present any identifiable symptoms, pregnant women undergo diabetes screening around 24 to 28 weeks gestation.
Conditions such as obesity, family history, ethnic background, advancing maternal age, excessive weight gain during pregnancy, and diet may increase a woman’s likelihood of developing the disease. The rate of gestational diabetes is increasing as obesity and other high-risk factors become increasingly prevalent in our society.
While gestational diabetes poses health risks for both mom and baby, it is the baby who is most vulnerable. For instance, gestational diabetes can lead to macrosomia, a condition characterized by excessive birth weight. Macrosomia puts a baby at risk for serious problems including difficult or dangerous labor. One labor complication in particular is known as shoulder dystocia, which can cause damage to, or even death of, the baby during delivery. In more severe or uncontrolled cases, diabetes during pregnancy may lead to damage or death of the baby even before birth. Furthermore, newborns whose mothers had poorly controlled gestational diabetes are accustomed to high blood sugar. As a result, they may have a low blood sugar condition known as hypoglycemia or other metabolic problems after birth. They are also more likely to develop diabetes and obesity during childhood.
Careful management of gestational diabetes is essential to ensuring good long-term health for both mom and baby. Proper diet is the first and most important step in managing the condition. Nutritional needs vary from one pregnant woman to the next, even from culture to culture. When diet alone cannot adequately control blood sugars, medication may be needed.
It is important to consult a specialist who can help you manage gestational diabetes. Registered dieticians provide guidance in diet and glucose management, designing meal plans that account for the patient’s individual needs. Maternal-Fetal medicine physicians specialize in high risk pregnancies including gestational diabetes and other disorders.