What is Gestational Diabetes?
What is gestational diabetes? It is a condition that can develop during pregnancy due to high blood sugar (glucose) levels. While the issue can develop at any point in a pregnancy, it is more likely in the second or third trimester.
It happens to pregnant women who have never had diabetes, and it will often disappear after giving birth. However, it is essential not to ignore the condition, as it can lead to problems for both you and your baby during and after pregnancy.
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
Your hormones can cause various changes in the body, which can make it difficult for the body to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates a person’s blood sugar level. Your midwife will assess your risk for gestational diabetes, and it may be diagnosed from a 24 to a 28-week blood test.
Who is at Risk of Gestational Diabetes?
Every pregnant woman can develop gestational diabetes. Yet, you’ll have an increased risk of the condition if:
- Your BMI is above 30
- A parent or sibling has diabetes
- You have had another baby who weighed more than 10lb (4.5kg) or more at birth
- You are of black, south Asian, Middle Eastern or African-Caribbean origin
A midwife will order a blood test for gestational diabetes if one or more of the above apply to you.
What are the Gestational Diabetes Signs?
Gestational diabetes often doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms for some pregnant women. Common signs of gestational diabetes are also often confused with pregnancy symptoms, such as
- Urinating frequently
- Feeling more tired than usual
- A dry mouth
- Increased thirst
What are the Gestational Diabetes Risks?
If you have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there is no reason to panic. Most women with the condition will go on to have normal pregnancies and healthy babies.
However, it is important to manage your blood sugar levels to avoid the following risks:
- Your baby growing larger than the norm – you will have an increased likelihood of a caesarean section or induced labour
- Pre-eclampsia – a condition that can lead to high blood pressure and pregnancy complications
- Premature birth (childbirth before the 37th week of pregnancy)
- Polyhydramnios – excess amniotic fluid in the womb
- Your baby developing jaundice following childbirth that may require hospital treatment
- Stillbirth (a rare complication of gestational diabetes)
How Can I Prevent Gestational Diabetes?
There are various actions you can take to lower your risk of gestational diabetes before pregnancy, such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating healthily
- Staying physically active
How is Gestational Diabetes Tested?
A midwife will ask you various questions during your first antenatal appointment to assess your gestational diabetes risk. If you have one or more risk factors (mentioned earlier), a midwife will organise an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).
The test will typically take two hours, which will involve a blood test in the morning. You cannot eat or drink for eight to 10 hours before the test, but your hospital may allow you to drink water.
Following the blood test, you will need to consume a glucose drink, rest for two hours and a phlebotomist will take another blood sample to identify how your body deals with the glucose drink.
Most pregnant women will take an OGTT between 24 to 28 weeks into their pregnancy. However, if you have had gestational diabetes previously, you may be screened for the condition much sooner.
How is Gestational Diabetes Treated?
Pregnant women diagnosed with gestational diabetes must control their blood sugar levels to avoid complications. You will likely receive a blood sugar testing kit following a positive test result, which can help you monitor the condition.
Also, you may be advised to make various changes to your diet and increase your physical activity levels. If these tactics fail to reduce your blood sugar levels, you may be prescribed medication or insulin injections.
Plus, you will need to attend frequent appointments to closely monitor your condition and identify any potential problems. Most women who have gestational diabetes are recommended to give birth before 41 weeks, which may result in induced labour or a caesarean section.
Are There Long-Lasting Consequences of Gestational Diabetes?
For most pregnant women, gestational diabetes will disappear following childbirth. However, you may have an increased risk of gestational diabetes in future pregnancies. Also, it could develop into type 2 diabetes.
So, now you know what is gestational diabetes, you must look for the signs during pregnancy. If you have increased thirst, fatigue, a dry mouth or frequent urination, you must talk to your doctor or midwife about your symptoms, as they could screen you earlier for the condition.