Gestational diabetes can occur in pregnant women, even if they have never had diabetes prior to their pregnancy. According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes typically occurs during the 24th week of pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman’s body fails to secrete excess insulin that is required during pregnancy. This results in high blood sugar, which can affect the mother’s pregnancy and the baby’s health.
Gestational diabetes occurs in about 5% of all pregnancies and doctors in the United States treat about 200,000 cases a year, says the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Although usually diagnosed in the third trimester of pregnancy, most women don’t notice any symptoms. In rare cases, some women may notice excessive urination or increased thirst.
Other possible symptoms may include: fatigue, nausea, weight loss, and blurred vision; however, these symptoms are rare.
While the exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, there are some factors that may contribute toward this condition. Pregnancy hormones can be responsible for blocking your body’s insulin from doing its job. The National Institute of Health sites the following conditions that put you at a greater risk for developing gestational diabetes:
- High blood pressure
- Overweight prior to pregnancy
- Excessive amniotic fluid
- Family history of diabetes
- Older than 25 during pregnancy
- Have sugar in your urine
As your baby grows in the uterus, additional hormones are produced that may have adverse effects on your blood sugar levels. This is why the condition occurs later in pregnancy.
Tests for Gestational Diabetes
Healthcare providers usually test women between the 24th to 28th weeks of their pregnancy.
Oral Glucose Tests – During this exam, you will fast up to 8 hours, and then your blood sugar will be monitored. The test will be administered again 2 hours after drinking a sugar drink. If your blood sugar is high during this exam, it will be checked every hour for a 3-hour period.
Treatment Options for Gestational Diabetes
Blood Monitoring Tests
After being diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s essential that you monitor your blood sugar levels on a routine basis. You will need to check your blood sugar in the morning and after meals. This procedure involves using a small needle to draw a drop of blood from your finger.
The blood is then placed on a test strip and inserted into a blood glucose meter. Women who develop gestational diabetes are at risk of having type II diabetes after their pregnancy. For this reason, it’s important to have additional follow-ups with your physician after you deliver your baby.
Eating a healthy diet, along with a variety of foods will help to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Consult with your doctor or dietitian regarding healthy food options during pregnancy.
Your diet should contain moderate amounts of carbohydrates; you should also limit your sugar and fat intake. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet during pregnancy should be composed of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and high in fiber. It also helps to eat three moderate sized meals throughout the day along with healthy snacks in between meals.
Moderate physical activity can help to control blood sugar levels notes the National Institute of Health. Physical activity will help regulate body sugar by stimulating your body to move glucose into cells.
Physical activity also causes your body to produce less insulin, which helps with gestational diabetes.
In cases where exercise and diet aren’t enough in controlling gestational diabetes, certain medications may be used. Some women may need to use insulin, while others may be prescribed medications that control blood sugar levels.
Effects on the Baby
Successful treatment for gestational diabetes is aimed at controlling high blood sugar levels. Many women who have gestational diabetes give birth to healthy babies, but there are some risks associated with this condition.
Some babies may lack minerals in their blood. This can result in muscle cramping and twitching. This condition can be treated by adding additional minerals to the baby’s diet.
Hypoglycemia – some babies may be born with low blood sugar. This can be treated by having the mother breast-feed the baby.
Macrosomia – this condition occurs when a baby is born larger than normal. When this happens, it often results in the necessity of a cesarean section delivery.