Like the Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is also a diabetes type which usually occurs at the time of pregnancy. It increases the blood sugar levels when you are pregnant.
However, it is not a condition to worry about as proper medical care and treatment will help you deliver a healthy baby. All you need to do is regulate your blood sugar levels so that there are no complications.
Gestational diabetes normally goes away once you’ve delivered the baby. But in certain cases, gestational diabetes can make you prone to developing type 2 diabetes.
Studies have still not found the precise cause that leads to gestational diabetes. For the better understanding of how gestational diabetes takes place, it is very important to first understand how pregnancy impacts the body’s glucose processing.
The food you eat is digested for producing sugar (glucose) which then enters the bloodstream. Afterward, the pancreas, which is a gland located behind the stomach, secretes insulin. The insulin hormone helps in transporting the glucose from the bloodstream to body’s cells, from where it is used in the form of energy.
At the time of pregnancy, the placenta connecting your baby to your blood supply produces various hormones in abundance. Most of the hormones as secreted by placenta hamper insulin functioning in the cells that results in increasing blood sugar. A normal increase in the blood sugar after you have your meals during pregnancy is pretty normal but if the levels are too high, it becomes a complex situation.
As the baby continues to grow, the placenta starts producing more of insulin-resisting hormones. In the case of gestational diabetes, the hormones produced by placenta cause an increase in your blood sugar to such a level which starts affecting the growth as well as the welfare of the baby. Gestational diabetes will normally surface when you reach the last half of your pregnancy; in certain cases, it can occur in the 20th week too.
While there is no precise reason why women develop gestational diabetes, there are certain factors which can make you prone to gestational diabetes. These factors include:
Age factor: If you are above 25 years of age, you will be more prone to develop gestational diabetes.
Family or personal health history: You will be at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if you’ve prediabetes. Prediabetes means you have marginally high blood sugar which could be a forerunner to type 2 diabetes. The risk factor would even be high if anyone in your family, parents or siblings, is diabetic – especially type 2 diabetes. You will even be prone to develop gestational diabetes if you had it in the previous pregnancy as well.
Overweight: Excess weight is also a contributing factor in increasing your risk of developing gestational diabetes.
When detected timely and managed under professional care, gestational diabetes doesn’t cause any major trouble. You can deliver a healthy baby despite gestational diabetes. However, if the gestational diabetes is not managed carefully, it can cause an uncontrolled increase in blood sugar levels which could be a risky affair both for you and your baby.
Let us have a look at some of the complications seen in the cases where gestational diabetes is not treated and managed properly.
Excessive birth weight: Extra levels of glucose in the blood will cross the placenta, triggering baby’s pancreas to produce more insulin. This condition often causes your body to grow very large (macrosomia). If the baby is very large, 9 pounds or more. It can become senseless in the birth canal, get birth injuries or need a C-section birth.
Preterm birth and respiratory distress syndrome: If your blood sugar goes very high, it will increase your chances of delivering the baby before the due date. Even the doctor may suggest having the delivery early owing to baby’s large size. Babies that are born early tend to have respiratory distress syndrome. This condition makes it difficult for them to breathe. They would need help for breathing till the time their lungs grow and become stronger. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of respiratory distress syndrome, even if the baby is not delivered early.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia): In certain cases, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) right after birth owing to the high production of insulin in their bodies. If the hypoglycemia is very severe, it can subject your baby to seizure. In order to bring baby’s sugar levels back to normal, prompt feeding and intravenous glucose solution will be required.
Other complications: The babies will even be at the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, along with obesity. In certain cases, gestational diabetes that’s not treated can even result in baby’s death, before birth or right after birth.
High blood pressure and preeclampsia: Gestational diabetes can subject you to high blood pressure and preeclampsia, which is a grave complication associated with pregnancy that results in high blood pressure and various other life-threatening symptoms – for both mother and baby.
Diabetes in the later stage: If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you will be at risk of developing it again in your future pregnancy. Moreover, it can even subject you to develop type 2 diabetes in the later stage of life. To reduce the chances of developing diabetes in the later stage, you should adopt a healthy lifestyle and eat healthy food.
You can never predict if you will have gestational diabetes during pregnancy. However, if you think you have the risk factors, you can make efforts to prevent gestational diabetes.
But the preventive measures must be taken before pregnancy and in case you’ve had gestational diabetes in your previous pregnancy, developing healthy habits will ensure that you reduce your risk of gestational diabetes in your future pregnancy.
Here are some of the preventive measures you can adopt for a healthy pregnancy:
Healthy food habits: The first and foremost change must be done with your food habits. If you are planning to conceive, make sure you switch to healthy eating. Eat foods that are rich in fibre but low in calories and fat. Include more of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Opt for a variety of healthy food items so that you get the required nutrition without compromising much on the taste.
Stay active: Exercise not only is helpful in keeping you healthy overall, it even helps in the healthy pregnancy. You should indulge in an exercise routine, both before and during pregnancy. This will cut down your risk of developing gestational diabetes. If you can’t give time for longer duration exercise sessions, you can always cut down the sessions.
Lose weight before pregnancy: Losing weight ahead of planning a pregnancy can contribute big time in keeping you healthy and preparing you well for the time ahead.
Gestational diabetes will normally cause no symptoms, it is usually diagnosed during the routine pregnancy tests.
The symptoms will only surface when gestational diabetes goes out of control, the symptoms will include:
Your doctor will assess your risk factors for developing gestational diabetes in the early stage of your pregnancy.
Considering the various risk factors, such as body weight, family history, present diabetes condition, or any other contributing factor, you will be advised to undergo diabetes test at the time of your first prenatal visit.
If your risk is not high then you will be recommended a screening test for gestational diabetes when you are in the second trimester – between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Glucose challenge test: This test is done to measure how your body will respond to sugar (glucose). For the glucose challenge test, you will first be given a sugary solution to drink. After an hour, the blood sugar level is measured and if the result shows higher blood sugar levels then it would be indicative that you’re at risk of developing gestational diabetes. To confirm if you have gestational diabetes, a glucose tolerance test would be required.
Glucose tolerance test: In this test, you will be advised to fast overnight and then your blood sugar level is measured. Once a sample of blood is taken, you will then be given another sugary solution to drink. This will have more amount of glucose and the blood sugar level will be checked in every 60 minutes for three hours. If two of the blood sugar levels happen to be higher than normal, gestational diabetes will be confirmed.
If you get diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor will recommend you to go for frequent checkups, particularly when you reach your last trimester. Your blood sugar will be monitored during the checkups. You may also be advised to monitor the blood sugar daily, in accordance to your treatment plan.
In case you fail to control your blood sugar level, you will be advised to take insulin. For any other complication related to pregnancy, you will have to undergo different tests to check the health of your baby. These tests even help in determining the function of the placenta.
Your sugar levels will be monitored all through the pregnancy period and your doctor will even do some minor checks to monitor baby’s health.
After you deliver the baby, your doctor will monitor the blood sugar levels. The levels will be checked again in 6 to 12 weeks to see if they have returned to the normal range. In most cases, the test will be normal but you should make it a point to assess your diabetes in every three years.
If any of your future tests show that you have diabetes or prediabetes, wherein the blood sugar level will be higher than normal, your doctor will advise to follow the methods to manage diabetes.
Monitoring and controlling the blood sugar levels are very vital for keeping your baby’s health so as to steer clear of all complications.
You’ll also have to keep a close eye on your future blood sugar levels. Your treatment strategies may include:
Monitoring your blood sugar: During your pregnancy time, your doctor will advise you to monitor your sugar levels around 4-5 times in a day. The sugar level should be checked first thing in the morning and post meals. This will help in keeping the sugar levels within a healthy range. You can do the check using a blood glucose meter, as it is handy and causes no inconvenience.
Your blood sugar levels will also be checked and managed during the labor and delivery. Rise in the blood sugar levels will cause baby’s pancreas to produce higher levels of insulin. If this happens, your baby has higher chances of suffering from low blood sugar right after birth.
Even after delivery, it is important that you undergo follow-up blood sugar level checks. This is major because gestational diabetes makes you prone to developing the type 2 diabetes later in life.
Healthy diet: To make sure that your blood sugar levels stay healthy, you should make it a point to eat healthy food. It would be great to consult a nutritionist and design your healthy meal plan. Along with eating healthy food, you should even focus on eating the right portions. There shouldn’t be many gaps in between your meals, you should eat smaller portions at frequent intervals. Junk foods must be ruled out completely and you should include more vegetables and fruits. Eat foods high in fiber and low in calories, also limit the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
Exercise: Physical activity not just helps you in staying fit, it even helps you maintain a healthy body weight. Maintaining the ideal weight is very important as excess weight is a risk factor of diabetes. If you had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you should make sure that you indulge in a regular exercise routine. However, you should even make it a point to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regime. Once your doctor approves of making an exercise routine, aim for moderate exercise forms and do them on most of the days in the week. If you were not much active before, start slowly and build it up gradually. You can opt for brisk walks, cycling and swimming.
Medication: In certain case,s diet and exercise may not be enough. Under such situation, you should consider opting for insulin injections that will help lower the blood sugar. Nearly, 10 to 20 percent of women who have gestational diabetes need insulin to manage their blood sugar goals. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe an oral blood sugar control medication.
You can deliver a healthy baby and continue living a normal life with gestational diabetes if you manage gestational diabetes in the right manner. Regular health checkups and monitoring of your blood sugar levels will help in regulating gestational diabetes perfectly.
If you encounter any health concern, you should bring it to the attention of your medical care provider. This ensures effective management of the problem before it becomes more complex and affects you adversely.
As one of the leading hospitals in India, Shalby Hospitals Ahmedabad has highly experienced Diabetologists and Endocrinologists who bring to you the most effective medical care for gestational diabetes management. The doctors specialize in providing customized treatment approach for various hormone induced ailments, of which diabetes is the most common one. From various diabetes types occurring in adults to neonatal diabetes, we cater to everything with precision.
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