What is gestational diabetes?
Does gestational diabetes put your pregnancy under high-risk category?
Can the diabetics that develop during pregnancy affect you and your baby?
What all to take care if you are diagnosed positive for gestational diabetes?
This article gives answers to all the above questions plus many more frequently asked questions on gestational diabetics.
#1. What is pregnancy diabetes/gestational diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the sugar in your blood is more than what is normal. If you didn’t have diabetes before conceiving and developed it during your pregnancy due to various hormonal changes during your gestation, it is called gestational diabetics or gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM).
#2. What is the reason for developing diabetes during gestation?
The food you consume passes through your digestive system and undergoes many processes and reactions and gets broken down into glucose, which is a type of sugar.
This glucose that enters your blood is converted into energy with the help of a hormone called Insulin. The cells in our body use this energy to function.
When you are pregnant, due to various hormonal changes, the production of insulin by the pancreas is disturbed. For some pregnant ladies insulin produced is not sufficient enough to turn the glucose into energy. The unused glucose builds up resulting in high sugar levels in the blood. A high sugar level in blood is nothing but diabetes.
#3. What is the normal blood sugar range for pregnant women?
Different practitioners use different blood sugar charts depending on the country and region and these charts also get revised timely. Your doctor will be the correct one to decide what is normal for you and what is not. So the given value here is just for reference.
The normal blood sugar ranges will be-
1 hour after meals- less than 140mg/dl
#4. What are the symptoms for gestational diabetes?
Usually gestational diabetes doesn’t show any symptoms. But sometimes you may feel thirstier, your trips to pee may increase, your mouth may be dry and you may get infections like thrush more often. Sometimes blurred vision too. But often such physical changes like more wee and thirst are common when you are pregnant and so it is difficult to find out if you have diabetes just by looking at the symptoms.
#5. How do I know I have gestational diabetes?
A glucose-screening test conducted between 24 and 28 week of your pregnancy gives the clue whether you have gestational diabetes. If you turn positive in a glucose-screening test, the doctor will ask you to take a glucose tolerance test (GTT).
A glucose tolerance test/three hour gestational diabetes test is a more detailed test done to confirm whether or not you have gestational diabetes. If GTT confirms that you have high blood sugar levels then you have gestational diabetes.
Also if the urine or blood test done to confirm pregnancy shows signs of diabetes or if you have a history of gestational diabetes then you may be asked to take the test at the first prenatal visit itself and then repeat the test again when you are between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant.
#6. How is the glucose-screening test done?
The glucose-screening test is done between 24 to 28 weeks of your pregnancy. You will be asked to come prepared for the test, as you will have to stay in the hospital for more than an hour. No fasting is required for this test.
For the test you will be made to drink a sugar solution with 50 grams of glucose in it. Don’t worry the solution tastes good as it comes in orange or lime flavor, I guess in cola flavor too. You will have to normally drink the solution in one go or with in five minutes.
You are not allowed to eat for the next one hour and will have to wait for the test to be done. After exactly one hour your blood sample will be taken and will be sent to labs to check the blood sugar level.
If you vomit the solution or didn’t drink it fully or missed to take test exactly after one hour, then you will be asked to do the screening test again on some other day.
A glucose tolerance test is a more detailed one and requires fasting. Your doctor will give you guidelines if you have to take one.
#7. What factors can increase my chances of getting gestational diabetes?
Any pregnant lady can develop diabetes during gestation. But if you fall under one or more of the below categories your chances of developing a gestational diabetics is high.
You are at high-risk if,
- You are above 35 years – Researches say that a woman getting pregnant after her 35th birthday has more chances of getting gestational diabetes.
- Family history of diabetes – If any of your blood relations (parents or siblings) has diabetes, then your chances of getting it is higher.
- Personal history of diabetes – If you had gestational diabetes during your previous pregnancy you can develop it again in your current pregnancy.
Also if you have an elevated blood sugar level that can become type II diabetes, then also chances of getting gestational diabetes is high.
- Over weight – If you are significantly over weight your chances are high, especially if you have a BMI more than 30.
- Ethnicity – If you are Hispanic, American Indian, Asian or black then your chances are high.
- Big baby/Birth defects – If you have delivered a baby more than 4.5kg weight in your previous delivery or if you have a baby with any birth defects
- Unexplained still birth – A still birth in the previous delivery with no explanation
- High blood pressure – If you have high blood pressure your chance of getting diabetes during pregnancy is high.
#8. How can gestational diabetes affect my pregnancy and my baby?
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, don’t worry much because majority of ladies deliver healthy babies and have normal gestation if the diabetes is controlled with dietary changes and medications as per your doctor’s advice.
But if not treated properly some problems can occur to your pregnancy/delivery and your baby. Some complications that can happen are given below.
All the extra sugar can make your baby put on weight especially in the upper part of the body. Putting extra sugar in your baby’s blood is just like overfeeding your baby. This can lead to macrosomia and can make it difficult for your baby to enter the birth canal and have a normal delivery.
- Shoulder dystocia
In some cases, the head easily enters the birth canal but the shoulders will get stuck due to all the extra weight. It is a condition called shoulder dystocia. In such cases the doctor will be using special maneuvers to pull the baby out of the birth canal.
- Wounds or physical damage to mom or baby
The use of maneuvers while delivering can cause wounds or fractures. But this will completely heal and the babies will not be affected in future.
The use of maneuvers will require a larger episiotomy for the mother and may result in more vaginal damage.
- Need for a cesarean delivery
If the doctors doubt that it will be difficult for you to have a normal delivery due to the big size of the baby they will do a cesarean delivery.
You can also read why normal delivery is the best for you and your baby.
- Preterm Labor
Another problem that can occur is an early delivery much before your due date. You can also read the experience of a preemie parent.
- Hypoglycemia soon after birth
Another risk is the low sugar levels in the baby’s blood soon after delivery. This is because the baby will be producing the same amount of insulin when he/she was inside the womb to use all the extra glucose present in blood. Once the baby is born, this extra insulin will use up all the sugar in the baby’s blood making the sugar levels low.
This condition is seen especially when the blood sugar level is considerably high during labor or during the last weeks of pregnancy.
The good news is that breastfeeding your baby soon after delivery is the best medicine for hypoglycemia as it can prevent/control the worse from happening.
You can also refer to the benefits of breastfeeding you might not be aware of.
In extreme cases of hypoglycemia, your baby may be given IV glucose solution.
- Respiratory problems
Sometimes the lungs of the baby whose mother had gestational diabetes will be a little late to mature. This can lead to trouble in breathing for the baby.
The kids born to moms with gestational diabetes are more likely to be overweight throughout their childhood and adulthood phase.
- Higher chances of getting diabetes in future
Babies born to moms who had gestational diabetes fall under the category of people who are more likely to develop type II diabetes in the future.
Another problem that can occur is preeclampsia. Preeclampsia has high blood pressure as a symptom. Preeclampsia due to gestational diabetes is more likely to occur in ladies who are overweight and who hasn’t controlled the diabetes during pregnancy.
- Polycythemia And Hypocalcemia
Gestational diabetics can also make the number of red blood cells in the blood to increase beyond limit (polycythemia) and also the level of calcium in the blood to decrease (hypocalcemia). Both can cause harm to your baby.
- Newborn Jaundice
Babies born to moms with gestation diabetes also have a high risk of getting newborn jaundice.
- Stillbirths (If gestational diabetes is not treated)
Researches also show that untreated gestational diabetes can lead to the death of the baby inside the womb or soon after delivery.
Please note that the conditions mentioned above can happen only if the sugar level is poorly controlled. If you are taking medicines, doing exercise and controlling your food as per your doctor, you will mostly have a healthy baby with no complications. So please don’t get tensed by reading all these. Just take the necessary steps to control the sugar level.
#9. How is gestational diabetes treated?
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes your doctor will recommend a new diet plan for you. According to your health and physical activity and other factors your doctor will ask you to avoid/include certain food, give you the quantity of food to be taken and the interval for each meals.
Also you will have to do moderate exercises to maintain healthy weight and bring the sugar levels down.
If the sugar level is so high that it cannot be controlled by controlling food alone, then you will have to take oral medicines and in some cases insulin injection. Taking an insulin injection is easy and you can do it at home itself. Also you may be asked to monitor sugar levels everyday.
#10. What diet should I follow if I have gestational diabetes?
If you do a Google search you see plenty of sites telling you what to eat when you have pregnancy diabetes. But I would say leave this to your doctor.
The amount and type of food you have to take and the foods you have to avoid and include all depends on various factors like your current weight, your target blood sugar level, the medications you are using, your physical activity etc. So please have a detailed discussion with your doctor or dietitian to find out what is best for you.
#11. What other things should I watch if I have gestational diabetes?
When you have gestational diabetes you should be extra careful regarding your pregnancy.
Following a controlled diet and taking medicines is one important thing. Your doctor will help you with what to eat and what not to eat with gestational diabetes.
You can read our complete guide on pregnancy diet too.
The other important thing is to count the kicks of your baby. If you feel that your baby is moving less please go to your gynecologist immediately.
If you have gestational diabetes I would suggest you buy a good blood glucose monitor and check your blood sugar regularly. This can help you know if your blood sugar level is within range or not.
If you are taking insulin injection chances are that your blood sugar levels can fall down. This happens very rarely but it is good to know the symptoms of low blood sugar in case. Some symptoms are nausea, blurred vision, fast heartbeat, weakness, sweating etc.
If you feel the symptoms of low blood sugar check the sugar levels immediately and do the needful. (Immediately eating sugary foods helps, but its always better to consult your doctor. So please talk about this to your doctor when he prescribes insulin injection. It is better to know beforehand.
Know the symptoms of preeclampsia like elevated blood pressure and water retention and if you notice any inform your doctor.
Go to your doctor if you feel any abnormal symptoms or feel that the baby is not doing well.
#12. How can I prevent gestational diabetes?
Unfortunately there is no clear-cut ways to prevent gestational diabetes.
But researches say that if you always maintain healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat healthy you can to some extend lessen the chances of developing gestational diabetes. Also take care not to take any medications that can hinder the production of insulin. If you are taking any such medicines talk to your doctor when you go for preconception check up.
You can also read the 14 must do things before trying to conceive.
#13. Will I continue to have diabetes after delivery?
To check if you have diabetes after your delivery a test is conducted 6 to 12 weeks after delivery.
The good news is that for majority of the women blood sugar will come to normal levels after delivery. But 1/3rd of the ladies with gestational diabetes continue to have a slightly higher glucose level even after delivery. This condition is called impaired glucose tolerance.
#14. Will I have diabetes in future?
If you had gestational diabetes for one pregnancy, chances are high for you to develop it in your next pregnancy too.
Also having gestational diabetes can increase your chances of developing type II diabetes in the future especially if you are obese, has impaired glucose tolerance, your blood sugar level during pregnancy was very high.
#15. How to reduce my chances of getting diabetes in future?
Maintaining a healthy BMI, exercising regularly and eating right is the primary key to lower the chances of developing type II diabetes in future.
Breastfeeding can also help decrease the chances of type II diabetes.
It is also important that you get your blood sugar levels tested once in a year or two.
#16. Should I give any special care for my child if I had gestational diabetes?
The answer is yes.
As mentioned earlier, the common gestational diabetes effects on children are overweight and developing type II diabetes.
The first thing you should do is to breastfeed your child soon after he is born. Then once he starts eating solids make sure to establish a healthy eating habit. Also always check that he is having healthy BMI and is doing exercise or has sufficient physical activities to maintain good health and weight.
You can also refer to the age wise height and weight chart for babies.
Also let your child’s pediatrician know that you had gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a condition that can make your pregnancy a risky one if not controlled.
If it is diagnosed at the right time and the treatments are done properly to bring the sugar levels to normal, then it is not a reason to worry about. You will have a healthy baby and pregnancy if you follow your doctor’s instructions without any excuses.
So ladies, who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, don’t get stressed out. Maintain a healthy weight, eat healthy, exercise and take the medicines properly. You will have a healthy baby and a healthy life ahead.
Did you have gestational diabetes?
What diet and exercise plan did your doctor suggest to bring the sugar levels to normal?
Do share in the comments please so that it can help other moms too.