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Gestational Diabetes: What You Need To Know

The word “diabetes” can be scary to hear, especially when you’re pregnant. Luckily, thanks to diagnosis and modern treatments, diabetics can live a healthy and active lifestyle while pregnant.

Gestational diabetes affects 2 to 10% of pregnant women in the U.S., with many of the affected women not having diabetes or symptoms of diabetes before they were pregnant. Gestational diabetes can impact any pregnant woman but is more likely to affect mothers over 35 and mothers with a family history of diabetes.

The good news for pregnant women: gestational diabetes is manageable and often goes away once your baby is born. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides helpful resources for women facing this concern:

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

You may be wondering “Why would I develop gestational diabetes if I am not currently diabetic?”

Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin and as a result, she struggles to convert sugars properly. Gestational diabetes is generally tested between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.

How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?

In your second trimester of pregnancy, your doctor should schedule a routine screening for gestational diabetes. The screening is relatively quick and easy - you’ll drink a sugary glucose drink one hour before visiting your doctor. Once at the office, you’ll have a blood test to measure blood sugar levels. If your levels are higher than normal, you will need additional testing to confirm if you do or do not have gestational diabetes.

Risk Factors

You could be at risk for developing gestational diabetes if you:

  • Had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Have given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Are overweight
  • Are more than 25 years old
  • Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Have a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born, but, once you’ve had gestational diabetes your risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life increases. Babies born from mothers with gestational diabetes are also more likely to become obese as a child or teen and are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Health Risks Associated with Gestational Diabetes

According to the CDC, there are several risks to mom and baby that can come along with gestational diabetes:

  • An Extra-Large Baby: An extra-large baby can lead to problems during delivery for both mom and baby. The mother might need a Cesarean Section (C-Section) to deliver the baby. The baby can be born with nerve damage due to pressure on the shoulder during delivery.
  • C-Section: A woman who has diabetes that is not well controlled has a higher chance of needing a C-section to deliver the baby. It takes longer for mom to recover from childbirth.
  • High Blood Pressure (Preeclampsia): Preeclampsia occurs when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, protein in her urine, and often swelling in fingers and toes. High blood pressure is more common in women with diabetes and can lead to the baby being born early and could cause seizures or a stroke in the woman during labor and delivery.
  • Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia): If a woman’s diabetes was not well controlled during pregnancy, her baby can very quickly develop low blood sugar after birth. Low blood sugar can be very serious, and even fatal, if not treated quickly.

Treatments

Pregnancy can feel daunting for expecting mothers and fathers. Monitoring your blood sugar levels and creating an effective treatment routine can go a long way for mothers dealing with gestational diabetes.

Treatment for gestational diabetes can include a special diet, regular exercise and monitoring blood sugar, and insulin injections. Women can learn more about gestational diabetes as well as meal planning at a support class offered through the Banner Health: Diabetes in Pregnancy Class. During this free two-hour class participants will meet with both a nurse and a dietician.

If you are in your 24th week, or later, of pregnancy and have not been tested for gestational diabetes, plan your visit to meet with a Banner physician. Remember: gestational diabetes can have no symptoms, so for the sake of yourself and your baby, it’s important to get tested.

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