Are you at Risk for Gestational Diabetes?


Are you at Risk for Gestational Diabetes?Gestational diabetes is a serious prenatal condition that occurs in approximately 9% of pregnancies.  In most instances, the disease cannot be prevented but knowing the risk factors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy can help reduce a mother’s risk of complications.  Today we’re explaining the basics of gestational diabetes including the side effects and risk factors.

What is Gestational Diabetes

Unlike type 1 or type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes develops only during pregnancy when mothers are not able to produce or use insulin properly and their blood glucose levels become off kilter.  In cases of gestational diabetes, hormones block regular endocrine and pancreatic functions that control insulin.  A woman who could otherwise handle normal amounts of sugar, develops insulin resistance known as hypoglycemia.

Side Effects of Gestational Diabetes

Having diabetes prior to conceiving is actually more dangerous for babies and mothers than gestational diabetes, but still, this unwanted pregnancy condition is not without side effects.

First, mothers may develop type 2 diabetes after giving birth.  And while insulin does not pass through the placenta to the fetus, a larger quantity of sugar does, causing the baby’s pancreas to work overtime.  Therefore, when a baby is born to a mother with gestational diabetes, his blood sugar may be low, which causes respiratory issues.  Additionally, babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes are at higher risk of being born large (known as macrosomia) and the risk of obesity later in life is also greater.  Type 2 diabetes has a higher prevalence among obese children.

Risk Factors of Gestational Diabetes

Like type 2 diabetes, risk factors of gestational diabetes include weight, family history and ethnicity.  Women who are overweight prior to conceiving are more likely to have gestational diabetes and those whose close family members have had it are also at risk.  African American, Latino and Native American women have higher incidence of the disease.  Women who eat diets high in animal fats prior to pregnancy are twice as likely to get gestational diabetes and those with high cholesterol are 45% more likely to get it.  Other risk factors include having had gestational diabetes with a previous pregnancy, having a large baby in a previous pregnancy and having consistent high glucose levels prior to pregnancy (usually considered pre-diabetic).

Testing for Gestational Diabetes

Expectant women who are not at high risk for gestational diabetes are usually tested for the disease between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.  They drink a high-sugar serum and then take a blood test an hour later to see how their bodies processed the sugar.  Women at high risk of gestational diabetes will probably take a test earlier in pregnancy to try to catch any blood sugar issues early.

Pregnancy Plans and Gestational Diabetes

Having a pregnancy plan is one of the best ways to stay healthy and try to keep gestational diabetes at bay.  A pregnancy plan actually begins before conception and may include starting a healthier diet and exercise routine prior to getting pregnant and trying to lose weight.  If a mother does develop gestational diabetes, her doctor will monitor her and her baby closely.  She will test her blood glucose levels up to four times day, be instructed to maintain a low-sugar, wholesome diet and exercise regularly.  Seeking counseling from a nutritionist is advised to ensure a healthy diet for both mother and baby.

Gestational diabetes is certainly not an ideal situation during pregnancy.  But by knowing your risk factors, maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and seeking medical guidance, you can work to keep yourself and your baby safe.