A pregnant woman with gestational diabetes.
Healthy Living

What Exactly is Gestational Diabetes?

Nov 24 2020

Every year, 10% of pregnant women in the United States receive a gestational diabetes diagnosis.

Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes need to control the levels of sugar in their blood to stay healthy. If untreated, high blood sugar can cause problems for both the mother and the baby.

While it can be a scary thing to hear your doctor say you have this condition, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a safe and healthy pregnancy. First start by educating yourself about gestational diabetes.

What causes gestational diabetes?

No one knows exactly what causes gestational diabetes. However, it happens when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin for both you and your baby. Insulin is a hormone that controls how much sugar is in your blood. This condition affects how a woman’s body processes and uses sugar for energy.

Being diagnosed with this condition doesn’t mean you were diabetic before you got pregnant. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be diabetic after.

There are also certain gestational diabetes risk factors to consider, such as:

  • Age above 35 years old
  • Family members with diabetes
  • Limited activity
  • Obesity
  • Previous delivery of a baby that weighed more than nine pounds
  • Previous gestational diabetes
  • Ethnicity – women who are African American, Native American, Hispanic or Asian are also at a greater risk.

Women do not have control over most of these risk factors. However, you can always get more exercise and lose weight if you are or are planning to become pregnant.

What are the potential complications of gestational diabetes?

Women who don’t get their blood sugar down to a manageable level may have complications during pregnancy and delivery. This condition also affects the health of the baby.

The most common concerns include:

  • Breathing difficulties for the baby
  • High blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar in the baby
  • Increased chance of Cesarean section
  • Increased birth weight
  • Increased risk of diabetes later in life for both the mother and the baby
  • Early birth
  • Stillbirth

Early treatment of gestational diabetes can reduce the risk of these issues. If you control your gestational diabetes, it doesn’t usually affect your baby.

How does your doctor test for it?

Doctors usually test all pregnant women for this condition between 24 and 28 weeks.  If you’re at a greater risk for gestational diabetes, they may test you more often.

The test is easy. Your doctor will give you a sugary drink. An hour later, they’ll take a sample of your blood and run some tests on it.  These tests can show whether you have the condition.

How is gestational diabetes treated?

If you do receive a gestational diabetes diagnosis, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions closely. This will help ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth. Treatment may include self-care strategies, medication and seeing your doctor more often to make sure you and your baby are in good health.

Here are some tips for managing gestational diabetes at home.

  • Exercise. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of activity five days a week. This helps you keep your weight and blood sugar levels under control.
  • Track your blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor about how often you should check your blood sugar levels. Get to know how they change during the day so you can notice and correct any problems early on. You may need to take diabetes medication or insulin.
  • Pay close attention to what you eat. Your doctor may ask you to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat.

Are you pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant soon? Learn more about the maternity care services we provide at Bon Secours and find a provider near you.

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