What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes, or diabetes during pregnancy, affects between and 2 and 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States. Insulin is a hormone that enables sugar in the bloodstream to enter the cells of the body, where it is used as a source of energy. During pregnancy, the placenta releases a hormone that makes a mother more resistant to her own insulin.
While most pregnant women produce more insulin to compensate for this effect, some women cannot produce enough extra insulin, resulting in higher levels of blood sugar and gestational diabetes.
Diagnosing Gestational Diabetes
It is important to recognize and treat gestational diabetes to minimize the risk of complications to the mother and baby. As such, it is recommended that all pregnant women be screened for gestational diabetes during pregnancy. For most women, a test is performed between 24 and 28 weeks. For women at higher risk, testing may be performed earlier in pregnancy.
High risk factors include:
- A prior history of gestational diabetes
- Strong family history
- Excess glucose in the urine
You will be given a specially formulated drink to take prior your appointment, and a blood sample will then be taken 1 hour later. If the result is normal, then no further testing is needed. For those with an elevated blood glucose level, a second 3-hour glucose test will be recommended to confirm whether you have gestational diabetes.
Treatment During Pregnancy
After being diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there are a few key steps you’ll take:
- Changes in your diet
- Testing your home blood sugar levels
While most pregnant women are able to control their blood sugar with dietary changes, some will require medication either in the form of a pill or insulin injections. Daily exercise is also important for maintaining a normal blood sugar.
In addition to dietary changes and blood sugar monitoring, you may also need more frequent prenatal visits, fetal monitoring, and ultrasounds to check the fetal growth and amniotic fluid level.
After delivery, most women with gestational diabetes will have normal blood sugar levels and do not require further treatment. However, some women will continue to be diabetic, despite no longer being pregnant. Therefore, for women who have gestational diabetes, it is recommended that a follow-up blood test be performed at the 6-week postpartum visit in order to confirm resolution of diabetes.
Finally, women who develop gestational diabetes have at least a 50% risk of developing diabetes later in life. As such, it is important that you return yearly for well-woman care and monitoring for development of diabetes.
*** This article is not intended to be medical advice and should not replace the advice of your treating medical professional. ***