Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy, and this condition affects about 18 percent of all pregnant women each year.
Gestational diabetes normally begins to develop between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy when hormones from the placenta start to block insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that is created by the pancreas and helps to metabolize carbohydrates and fats so that the body will convert sugar into energy.
When insulin is not able to function properly, this can lead to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes can also cause nerve damage and affect that way that internal and blood vessels function.
Who Is at Risk for Gestational Diabetes?
Medical professionals and researchers aren’t entirely sure why some pregnant women suffer from gestational diabetes (GD) while others do not, but there are some risk factors to keep in mind.
Excess weight increases the likelihood of gestational diabetes. If a woman has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher before getting pregnant, the additional weight of pregnancy will have a negative effect on the body’s ability to balance blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
Higher levels of abdominal fat can also raise a woman’s chances of developing GD.
The American Diabetes Association journal published a study that revealed higher chances of gestational diabetes in women with high levels of belly fat in the first trimester of pregnancy.
The age of the mother also determines how likely it is that gestational diabetes will occur.
Doctors have found that when age 35 and older have a greater chance of developing gestational diabetes.
Women who had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy are also more likely to develop the disease again.
Women who have been put on bed rest during their pregnancy may develop gestational diabetes as well since the lack of activity will cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly.
Women with a family history of diabetes or GD should also be aware that their risk of gestational diabetes is higher.
Women of Asian, Native American, African American, and Hispanic heritage are at increased risk for the disease as well.
It’s important for women to have their blood sugar levels checked before getting pregnant to determine if gestational diabetes is a potential health concern.
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
While there are several risk factors that can raise the likelihood of GD, most women don’t have any symptoms of the disease during pregnancy, which is why it is so dangerous. However, some women may experience:
– Frequent and unusual thirst, followed by frequent urination. This is significant because many women have to urinate often during pregnancy but in small amounts.
When trips to the bathroom becoming more and more urgent, and urine is released in large amounts, this could be a sign of GD.
– Fatigue. If the fatigue gets increasingly worse, this could be an indicator of GD. Fatigue is often a normal pregnancy symptom, so some women may not see their constant need for sleep as a cause for alarm.
– Sugar in the urine. This can only be detected during a routine prenatal visit, and women should specially request this test, especially if the doctor does not readily offer it and they have one or more GD risk factors.
A woman can only be officially diagnosed with gestational diabetes after the doctor has evaluated her urine sample.
This is part of the reason that pregnant patients are asked to provide a urine sample at each prenatal doctor visit.
However, it is important to keep in mind that several urine samples have to be studied to make a diagnosis.
One sample that shows sugar in the urine does not necessarily mean a woman has GD.
The U.S. government has now issued a recommendation that all women undergo a gestational diabetes screening around the 28th week of pregnancy.
This involves drinking a sugary liquid, having blood drawn and going through a glucose intolerance test.
How GD Affects Mother and Baby
If gestational diabetes is treated effectively and as early as possible, and both mother and unborn child are monitored by a doctor, GD is manageable and won’t be harmful.
However, if large amounts of sugar are in the mother’s blood and enter the placenta, there could be serious problems for mom and baby.
Gestational diabetes that is not properly controlled could cause women to deliver very large babies, which increases their chances of having to have a cesarean section instead of a natural birth. Stillbirths and preeclampsia are also more likely for women with GD.
Gestational diabetes is also a pregnancy complication, so women with this disease may not be able to carry full term since their doctors will likely induce them.
After the baby is born, he/she may be at risk for health problems in the future, such as type 2 diabetes.
Infants may also have trouble breathing or jaundice as a result of GD that was not properly treated.
Preventing Gestational Diabetes
Women who have a family history of GD or who are over the age of 35 during pregnancy may not be able to prevent gestational diabetes.
However, eating a balanced diet, exercising and losing weight are factors that can be controlled.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can both decrease the likelihood of GD and improve health during and after pregnancy.
Eating lots of fiber, fruits, and vegetables and working out often can also prevent the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Women who exercise during their pregnancies for at least 15 minutes a day are at a lower risk for developing GD.
Simply taking a walk after dinner in the evenings or taking a swim in the afternoons allows the body to burn glucose even without the amount of insulin that the body would produce normally.
Working out keeps blood sugar levels balanced, and can provide more energy overall during pregnancy.
Foods that are high in fiber and free of empty calories and excess sugar can also keep glucose levels regulated and reduce the chances of GD and type 2 diabetes after pregnancy. A diet that is filled with lean protein can also provide these health benefits.
Switching from white rice and pasta to whole grain varieties, and baking or broiling chicken or fish are simple adjustments women can make to their diets to keep high blood sugar levels at bay.
Treating Gestational Diabetes
Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes can help to treat the condition by keeping their blood sugar levels in check and monitored.
Women should check their fasting glucose levels, and then check again one hour after eating to make sure glucose ranges remain healthy.
Some women even decide to meet with a nutritionist or dietician to successfully make the dietary changes that will keep blood sugar balanced.
Working with these professionals can also decrease the chances that women will gain unnecessary weight during pregnancy, and women can use these health tips long after the baby is born as well.
Keeping a food journal can also help women to keep track of what they’re eating and avoid foods that have a negative effect on their bodies.
Gestational diabetes is a serious condition, and it has been proven that many women don’t show any signs throughout their pregnancy, which is why urine and blood tests are so important at prenatal visits.
However, it’s also best for women with a history of diabetes or glucose intolerance issues to go over GD risk factors with their doctors before becoming pregnant and/or during the early stages of pregnancy.
It’s very important for women to get enough vitamin D and vitamin C while pregnant, especially if there is a tendency for GD.
Vitamin D is necessary for absorbing certain nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and iron.
This makes it easier for the body to properly process sugar and use glucose to energize the body.
Vitamin D also encouraged the growth the gut’s beneficial bacteria, which keeps the digestive tract during pregnancy.
Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system and lack of the vitamin has been directly associated with GD.
Pregnant women who take vitamin C supplements or eat foods that are rich in vitamin C like citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables can lower the chances of both gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.
Finally, there are also some natural approaches women can take to prevent gestational diabetes or effectively treat the condition.
In addition to exercising, it’s important for women to eat a diet that is rich in protein and fiber so that excess sugar can be eliminated from the body and/or used for energy in the body.
Foods like beans, tofu, chicken, fish, and eggs are ideal for consumption during pregnancy for adequate protein intake.
To get lots of fiber in the diet, adding flax meal or psyllium husk to smoothies is helpful.
Eating small meals before after working out is also beneficial for balancing blood sugar levels and to prevent fatigue and lightheadedness while lowering the chances of gestational diabetes.
In addition to this helpful information about gestational diabetes and how to test for and treat this condition, there is also a helpful video that will shed more light on GD so that women can improve their health and protect the health of their babies.