Most people have heard about type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but did you know that there is also a type of diabetes found specifically in pregnant women? According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), gestational diabetes affects as many as 10% of pregnancies in the United States.
With such a large number of pregnancies affected by gestational diabetes, you’re likely wondering what happens if you have gestational diabetes and how it can affect a pregnancy. Keep reading below for more information about the causes of gestational diabetes, common symptoms to watch out for, how to tell if you have gestational diabetes, and other important information.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs in some pregnant women. It usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy or the second trimester.
While the exact causes of gestational diabetes aren’t known, medical experts do understand how the condition works. Many hormones change during pregnancy, including insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas and used to help transform blood sugar into energy. While carrying a child, some women develop high blood glucose levels because they are unable to make or use the necessary amounts of insulin. This is known as insulin resistance and is a key factor in the development of gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can negatively affect both mother and baby, especially if it is left untreated.
How do you get gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body can’t produce enough insulin on its own. As a baby develops throughout pregnancy, the mother’s body produces human placental lactogen (HPL), a hormone that helps the baby develop and grow but can also impact the mother’s metabolism. Elevated levels of HPL can increase a mother’s blood glucose level and reduce insulin sensitivity.
Gestational diabetes has the potential to occur in any pregnancy, though there are several risk factors associated with this condition, including:
- Age. Women over the age of 25 who conceive are at a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes.
- Weight. Overweight or obese mothers are more likely to develop this condition.
- Ethnicity. Gestational diabetes is more likely to affect certain groups, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
- Genetics. A history of diabetes in the family increases a mother’s risk for developing gestational diabetes.
- Prediabetes or previous gestational diabetes. Women who have been diagnosed as prediabetic or who have developed gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
Symptoms of gestational diabetes
So, what happens if you have gestational diabetes? Unlike some types of diabetes, gestational diabetes has almost no associated symptoms. Thus, it can be difficult to know if you have gestational diabetes until you are tested for it.
A lack of noticeable symptoms doesn’t mean that gestational diabetes is insignificant, though. This condition can still cause many complications for you and your baby.
Mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure while pregnant and are at a much greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy ends. Additionally, once you have had gestational diabetes, you’re more likely to have it again in subsequent pregnancies.
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to macrosomia or a baby who weighs much more than normal. Not only is this unhealthy for the child, but it can also make delivery much more difficult on the mother and baby or create the need for a cesarean section birth.
Additionally, if your blood sugar levels rise too drastically during labor, the risk of your baby developing hypoglycemia and other problems after birth is increased. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are also at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes — and related conditions such as diabetic neuropathy and foot problems — in the future.
Diagnosing gestational diabetes
Fortunately, screening for gestational diabetes is a common and easy practice.
The process begins when your doctor reviews your risk level for gestational diabetes. If you are at high risk, your doctor will check your blood glucose levels as early as possible to ensure they’re still in the normal range. If they are, you can expect a follow-up test in the second trimester.
The follow-up test is known as an oral glucose tolerance test. It is available as both a one-hour test and a three-hour test. To complete the test, you’ll generally need to fast for a certain period before your appointment. At the appointment, your doctor will test your fasting blood glucose level. Next, you’ll drink 8 ounces of a sugary glucose solution, and then you will have your blood glucose levels tested again to ensure that they are not overly elevated.
If your blood glucose levels measure above normal during any point of the test, you’ll be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. If this happens, don’t panic — there are plenty of things you can do to ensure that your condition does not negatively impact you or your child.
Treatment options: how to manage gestational diabetes
For most people, gestational diabetes reverses after delivery. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore treatment options during pregnancy!
Properly managing gestational diabetes is key to protecting your baby and ensuring that you have the healthiest pregnancy possible. You must follow the treatment plan provided by your doctor throughout your pregnancy.
The most important element of treating gestational diabetes is to control your blood sugar. Doing so will ensure that it doesn’t get too high or stay too high for too long. There are many different ways to achieve this goal.
- Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes plenty of whole foods. Eating the right foods in the right amounts makes it easier to control your blood sugar levels.
- Stay physically active and get regular exercise throughout your pregnancy. This helps encourage your body to use glucose effectively, control your weight, improve your mood, and combat stress.
- Take necessary medications as prescribed by your doctor. These may include insulin or other medications to help regulate your blood glucose levels.
Your doctor will likely ask you to monitor your blood glucose levels every day. Luckily, it is quite easy to check your blood sugar at home with a blood glucose monitor. This will allow you to keep a daily count of your levels to ensure that you’re able to manage the condition effectively.
You can also take steps to prevent gestational diabetes by reaching and maintaining a healthy weight before pregnancy and establishing a good physical fitness routine.
Combat common diabetic complications with simple protective measures
Gestational diabetes can put mothers at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. And while gestational diabetes often resolves by itself, the same can’t be said for other types of diabetes.
If you’ve been diagnosed with any type of diabetes, it’s important to understand that there are many different ways to manage your condition and symptoms so that you can enjoy a higher quality of life. One must-have element in any pain management toolbox is a pair of high-quality diabetic socks to help protect your feet and legs from common diabetic foot problems. Non-binding diabetic socks are an affordable, easy, and effective solution to combating symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and protecting your feet from injury and infection.
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