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What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational (jes-stay-shuh-nal) diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs when your body can’t make enough insulin during your pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into the cells in your body for use as energy.
During pregnancy, your body makes more hormones and goes through other changes, such as weight gain. These changes cause your body’s cells to use insulin less effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance increases your body’s need for insulin.
All pregnant women have some insulin resistance during late pregnancy. However, some women have insulin resistance even before they get pregnant. They start pregnancy with an increased need for insulin and are more likely to have gestational diabetes.
Symptoms & Risk Factors
Gestational diabetes typically doesn’t have any symptoms. Your medical history and whether you have any risk factors may suggest to your doctor that you could have gestational diabetes, but you’ll need to be tested to know for sure.
You are 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 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
It’s important to be tested for gestational diabetes so you can begin treatment to protect your health and your baby’s health.
Gestational diabetes usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy, so you’ll probably be tested between 24 and 28 weeks.
If you’re at higher risk for gestational diabetes, your doctor may test you earlier. Blood sugar that’s higher than normal early in your pregnancy may indicate you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes rather than gestational diabetes.
*Type 1 diabetes is when your body makes very little insulin or no insulin at all and is typically diagnosed when a person is a child or young adult. People with type 1 diabetes require insulin shots or an insulin pump.
*Type 2 diabetes is when your body cannot use the insulin it makes, and eventually does not make enough insulin. It is normally found in people who are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, do not get enough physical activity, and are middle-aged or older. Type 2 accounts for about 90-95% of all diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with lifestyle changes and/or medications, but many people require insulin shots.
Gestational diabetes can affect your baby
If you have gestational diabetes, your baby is at higher risk of:
Being very large (9 pounds or more), which can lead to a more difficult delivery. A large baby born through the birth canal can injure nerves in baby’s shoulder; break his or her collarbone; or, rarely, have brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Being born early, which can cause breathing and other problems.
Having quickly changing blood sugar after delivery. Your baby’s doctor will watch for low blood sugar after birth and treat it if needed.
Be more likely to become overweight or obese during childhood or adolescence. Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can affect you
If you have gestational diabetes, you are at higher risk of:
Having a more difficult delivery.
Having a very large baby and needing to have a cesarean section or C-section (an operation to get your baby out through your abdomen).
Taking longer to recover from childbirth if your baby is delivered by C-section.
Other problems that sometimes happen with gestational diabetes:
Women with gestational diabetes also can develop preeclampsia (pree-e-klamp-see-uh). Preeclampsia is pregnancy complication that involves high blood pressure; protein in the urine; and, often, swollen feet, legs, fingers, and hands. Preeclampsia can harm you by causing seizures or a stroke. It might also cause your baby to be born early.
Sometimes, diabetes does not go away after delivery or comes back later after pregnancy. When this happens, the diabetes then is called type 2 diabetes.
The good news…gestational diabetes can be controlled!
Now is the time to keep you and your baby healthy
It is important during your pregnancy to keep you blood sugar under control. Here’s how:
1. See your doctor regularly
Ask your doctor if you need to see him or her more often because of your diabetes.
Work with your doctor and, together, you will be able to catch problems early, or even prevent them entirely.
2. Eat healthy foods and stay active
Work with a dietitian or diabetes educator to develop a diabetes meal plan for yourself. Learn what to eat to keep your blood sugar under control.
Stay active to help keep your blood sugar under control. Exercise regularly—before, during, and after pregnancy. Moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is a good goal if it is okay with your doctor.
3. Take your medicines
Follow your doctor’s advice.
Take your medicines as directed.
4. Monitor your blood sugar often
Be aware that your blood sugar can change very quickly, becoming too high or too low. What you eat, how much you exercise, and your growing baby will change your blood sugar many times during the day.
Check your blood sugar often—as directed by your doctor, and any time you have symptoms.
Know what blood sugar levels mean. Learn how to adjust what you eat; how much you exercise; and, if prescribed, how much insulin* to take depending on your blood sugar tests.
5. Control and treat low blood sugar quickly
Check your blood sugar right away if you have symptoms. See the next section for more on low blood sugar.
Treat low blood sugar quickly. Always carry with you a quick source of sugar, like hard candy or glucose tablets.
Wear a medical alert diabetes bracelet.
Monitoring Your Blood Sugar
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says you should try to keep your blood sugar below these levels:
95 mg/dL or lower
1 hour after eating
130 mg/dL or lower
2 hours after eating
120 mg/dL or lower
*Blood sugar is measured in milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL).
High blood sugar
Your blood sugar is high when the numbers are 130 mg/dL or higher. High blood sugar can:
Make you thirsty
Make you go to the bathroom often to urinate (pee)
Make it hard to pay attention
Blur your vision
Make you feel weak or tired
Cause yeast infections
Talk with your doctor if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.
Low Blood Sugar
Your blood sugar is low when the numbers are 70 milligrams/ deciliter or less. Low blood sugar is also called hypoglycemia (hipoh-gli-see-me-ah). Low blood sugar can:
Make you feel hungry
Make you sweat
Make you feel dizzy or shaky
Make you feel anxious or cranky
Cause you to feel confused
Make your heart feel like it’s beating too fast
Make you look pale
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, check your blood sugar. If it is low, eat or drink a source of quick sugar—like a piece of hard candy or 4 ounces of a fruit juice or skim milk. Check your blood sugar again in 15 minutes. If it’s not better, eat or drink a source of quick sugar again. When you feel better, have a protein snack like cheese and crackers or half a peanut butter sandwich. Talk with your doctor if you have 2 or more low blood sugars during 1 week.
Stay healthy after baby is born
Gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy, but sometimes diabetes stays. It’s important to be checked for diabetes after your baby is born. About 50% of women who have gestational diabetes get type 2 diabetes later in life.
After pregnancy and in the future:
Make sure to ask your doctor about testing for diabetes soon after delivery and again 6 weeks after delivery.
Continue to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly.
Have regular checkups and get your blood sugar checked by your doctor every 1-3 years.
Talk with your doctor about your plans for more children before your next pregnancy.
Watch your weight. Six to twelve months after your baby is born, your weight should be back down to what you weighed before you got pregnant. If you still weigh too much, work to lose 5%-7% (10-14 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) of your body weight.
Plan to lose weight slowly. This will help you keep it off.
Eating healthy, losing weight and exercising regularly can help you delay or prevent type 2 diabetes in the future.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
This post was last updated on April 24th, 2020 at 12:50 PM
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