Gestational diabetes occurs when you develop high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This is due to hormonal disruptions that interfere with your body’s use of insulin. The sugar remains in your bloodstream, rather than being converted to energy.
Gestational diabetes typically goes away after you deliver your baby, however, it can raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Our experienced OBGYNs at CMC Women’s Health want you to better understand this condition and how you can effectively manage it as you await the birth of your baby.
Causes of Gestational Diabetes
When you become pregnant, your body begins producing hormones to support your pregnancy. As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll gradually gain weight. As a result, your body will need extra insulin, a hormone produced in your pancreas, to convert the glucose in your food into energy.
Pregnant women can have issues with their cells not using insulin as effectively as they usually would. This is called insulin resistance and means they will need even more insulin. Some will be able to produce the necessary insulin to overcome this resistance, but others won’t produce enough to meet the demand. As a result, they may develop gestational diabetes.
It’s important to note that some folks already have diabetes before they get pregnant, but that’s considered pre-existing diabetes, not gestational diabetes.
Risk Factors for Developing Gestational Diabetes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that somewhere between 2% and 10% of pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes.
Certain factors can raise your risk for developing this condition. You’re at greater risk if you:
- Are overweight
- Are over age 25
- Had gestational diabetes during an earlier pregnancy
- Gave birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Additionally, people who are African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Native Alaskan, Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian are at greater risk.
In the U.S., universal prenatal screening is performed via blood testing between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation.
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
Sometimes with gestational diabetes there aren’t any symptoms at all. When symptoms are present, they’re often mild, like increased thirst or the urge to urinate more often. These are symptoms that are usually present during pregnancy anyway.
Gestational diabetes usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy, so you’ll probably be tested between 24 and 28 weeks. However, if you are at greater risk for gestational diabetes, your doctor may recommend getting tested earlier in your pregnancy.
Don’t skip this appointment. It doesn’t matter how healthy or physically fit you are, you can still have gestational diabetes.
Risks for the Parent During Birth
Having gestational diabetes increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. In fact, the CDC estimates that 50% of people who have gestational diabetes eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
Other possible complications that can occur during labor and childbirth include:
- Greater risk of needing a C-section
- Severe tears to the vagina or perineum during a vaginal birth
Risks for Baby
Your gestational diabetes can also put your baby at risk. They may be more likely to:
- Weigh nine pounds or more, which can make delivery more challenging
- Be born early and experience breathing difficulties
- Have low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia
- Develop type 2 diabetes later life.
- Increased risk for stillbirth
Treatment for Gestational Diabetes
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will need to carefully monitor your blood sugar levels for the remainder of your pregnancy. Maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise to keep your blood sugar levels under control. There is a possibility that you may need medication, either in the form of insulin injections or in some cases, an oral medication. The earlier you can get control of your gestational diabetes, the better your outcome may be.
Coping with a new diagnosis during pregnancy can be challenging. But learning about the best ways to manage your blood sugar levels may give you a better sense of control over the situation. Some key steps to take:
A Word From CMC Women’s Health
Many people who develop gestational diabetes are able to successfully manage their condition and go on to deliver perfectly healthy babies. You can be one of them, too. CMC Women’s Health is here to help you navigate any concerns or questions that you have. No question is too small, especially since you’re grappling with daily changes to your routine. We’ll help you stay on top of your blood sugar levels and help you feel confident and prepared for the birth of your baby.