What is Gestational Diabetes?

If you ever find yourself on the internet long into the night, self diagnosing or doing a deep dive into rare complications, we are here for you! While the internet has a ton of great information, it can also be a source of anxiety for many expecting and new parents. When it comes to pregnancy, especially pregnancy complications, having the right information is crucial to not only ease your fears, but to know when it is the right time to see a professional. Gestational diabetes occurs in up to 10% of pregnancies,1 and is important to be informed about. We’ve compiled evidence based information to help you stay informed and healthy throughout your pregnancy!

Gestational diabetes… What is that?

By definition, gestational diabetes is when someone’s initial diagnosis of diabetes occurs during pregnancy.2 The condition is temporary, but may increase the risk of developing type II diabetes in the future. This condition is caused when the body isn’t able to produce enough insulin, and blood sugar cannot be regulated.2 Potential risk factors for developing this condition include a family history of diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, a previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes or prediabetes, being overweight, and poor exercise and nutrition.2 However, for the majority of cases, gestational diabetes goes away after birth! Blood sugar levels typically return to normal and about 50% of women with this diagnosis have no further instances of diabetes.

How do they diagnose gestational diabetes … ?

Gestational diabetes typically comes about during the second trimester, around 24 weeks gestation. Your obstetrician will test for this, and early detection is important for treatment.3 If you are have more of the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes, your blood sugar will typically be tested earlier on during your pregnancy.3 There are two tests that providers use to test for this condition, the glucose screening test and the glucose tolerance test. The first test requires drinking a very sugary drink and having your blood sugar levels checked after one hour. If your result is abnormally high, aka over 140 mg/dL, then you’ll be required to take the second test. The glucose tolerance test requires fasting the night before and then having your blood sugar drawn. You’ll have to drink the sugary drink again, and then your glucose levels will be checked after 1, 2, and maybe even 3 hours.4

How does gestational diabetes affect pregnancy… ?

Prevention and treatment of gestational diabetes, as well as a timely diagnosis, are really important for avoiding potential complications. Gestational diabetes is associated with a higher likelihood of high blood pressure as well as having a c-section. In addition, potential complications that affect both you and your baby are… 

  • Excessive birth weight
  • Premature Delivery
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Future diagnosis of diabetes for both you and your child
  • Low blood sugar for baby shortly after birth
  • Preeclampsia

To learn more about these complications, click here. Although these side effects are scary, they can be avoided.

What are the treatment and prevention options … ?

Even though there are risk factors, it is not guaranteed that gestational diabetes will occur, or that it will be prevented. A healthy diet and exercise routine before and during pregnancy can lead to less of a chance of developing gestational diabetes, or type II diabetes in the future.2 The treatment of gestational diabetes is created in an individualized plan with your physician, but often consists of the same main points. They will focus on nutrition and exercise, oftentimes in a joint effort with a dietician. Your provider will also frequently check your blood sugar and monitor your baby to make sure that everything is healthy and stable. If necessary, medication such as insulin or metformin is prescribed.1 

Important to remember… 

Never hesitate to bring any concerns to your healthcare provider about gestational diabetes, risk factors, or how to properly exercise and eat for your changing body. Gestational diabetes must be taken seriously, but with proper care and prevention techniques it can have little effect on your pregnancy and future health. If you have any questions, check out these peer reviewed resources below for more information!

Resources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, May 30). Gestational Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/gestational.html. 
  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, August 26). Gestational diabetes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gestational-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355339. 
  3. Gestational Diabetes. ACOG. (n.d.). https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/gestational-diabetes. 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, May 15). Diabetes Tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/getting-tested.html. 

Claire Dowell