Gestational Diabetes

What are Gestational Diabetes?

Pregnancy brings many changes to a woman’s body. Sometimes a pregnant woman’s body can no longer make enough blood sugar to keep the woman and baby healthy. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about 9.2% of all American pregnant women wind up getting gestational diabetes.

These women did not have any other form of diabetes. Just why some non-diabetic women get gestational diabetes and not all non-diabetic women is unknown. Symptoms begin about the 24th week of pregnancy so getting a blood sugar test at that time is recommended for all pregnant women to make sure that they do not have gestational diabetes and to get treatment if they do.

What are the Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes?

The first signs of gestational diabetes are increased thirst which results in needing to urinate a lot more often. Appetite may become voracious and the mother to be may have blurry vision or problems seeing normally. Her blood pressure may increase dramatically, which can cause swelling of the fingers and toes.

Some women have gestational diabetes and show no symptoms. They still need treatment to protect the fetus. This is why it is so important to get a blood sugar test sometime from week 24 to week 28. If left untreated, fetuses can suffer from macrosomia or “big baby syndrome.” These babies often are so large that they cause a difficult birth or a premature birth, have trouble breathing and are prone to developing diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes Causes

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy. The most common risk factors for this temporary disease usually include obesity, a family history of type 2 diabetes, having pre-diabetes, or previously delivering a high weight infant (9 pounds or more). Gestational diabetes is most commonly seen in women with African American, Asian, Hispanic or Native American ancestry. During pregnancy, a woman may need as much as three times the regular amounts of insulin to process the glucose in her blood.

Gestational diabetes does not typically have symptoms but is thought to be caused by changes in the body during pregnancy that can cause some women to become resistant to insulin. One primary belief is that an increase in hormones produced by the baby’s placenta can actually block the mother’s insulin which leads to increased blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes usually occurs late in pregnancy but, if left untreated, can negatively affect the baby. The condition does not cause birth defects in babies but can lead to birthing “fat” babies because the child’s pancreas must begin producing insulin to compensate for the poor insulin production of the mother’s pancreas. Later in life, children affected by gestational diabetes are at a higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

How are Gestational Diabetes Treated?

The good news is that gestational diabetes is treatable through diet changes, sticking to an exercise regimen and insulin shots if needed. Monitoring the mother’s blood sugar several times a day helps determine if current treatment is working or if another type of treatment is needed. Women that can exercise during pregnancy should work out at least a half hour five times a week.

Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the baby is born. Still, the woman is now prone to getting Type II diabetes and should stick to a healthy diet and exercise program. Her blood sugar should be tested 6 to 12 weeks after giving birth. Testing at least once a year for the next three years is also recommended.

Gestational Diabetes Prevention

Gestational diabetes is best prevented through blood glucose monitoring, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise. During pregnancy, most women are tested between their 24th and 28th week to determine how efficiently their body can process glucose. This glucose tolerance test is administered by requiring the patient to consume a sugary drink and then drawing blood an hour later to test blood glucose levels. If a woman fails the initial test, she may be required to take a secondary glucose tolerance test with additional blood monitoring over the course of three hours.

Typically, diet is the best way to control gestational diabetes. Doctors will recommend that patients eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of the traditional three big meals. Patients will also be advised to reduce their carbohydrate intake and to incorporate more high fiber food such as fruits and vegetables.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
December 27, 2017