Gestational diabetes is one of the most common health problems of pregnancy. Between 2 and 10 percent of expectant mothers develop this condition, usually around the 24th week of pregnancy. Most women who develop gestational diabetes do not remain diabetic after the baby is born. Once you have had gestational diabetes you are at higher risk of getting it again during your future pregnancies and for developing diabetes later in life.
There are many kinds of diabetes, but to put it simply, it means that you have abnormally high levels of sugar in your blood. It affects how your cells use sugar, also known as glucose, which is your body’s main fuel. When you eat, your digestive system breaks down most of your food into glucose which then enters your bloodstream. With the help of insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas, your cells use the glucose to fuel your body. However, if your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t accept the insulin then too much glucose stays in your blood stream instead of moving into the cells and getting converted into energy.
During pregnancy, the placenta that connects your baby to your blood supply produces high levels of various hormones. Almost all of these hormones impair the action of insulin in your cells, which raises your blood sugar. As your baby grows, the placenta produces more and more insulin blocking hormones. In gestational diabetes, the abnormally high levels of blood sugar can affect the growth and health of your baby.
Most women will not experience noticeable symptoms of gestational diabetes, but some will feel excessively thirsty and urinate more frequently.
Testing for gestational diabetes is a part of your regular prenatal care. It is very important to see a doctor when you decide that you want to get pregnant or as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. Doctors test your blood sugar levels through a urine test or through a blood test. It is very common for doctors to order follow-up testing. If at least two of the blood sugar readings are higher than normal then you will likely be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
If you have gestational diabetes, your doctor will recommend frequent check-ups, especially during your final three months of pregnancy. During these exams your doctor will monitor your blood sugar levels. Your doctor may also ask you to monitor your own blood sugar regularly.
Eating the right kinds and quantity of food is one of the best ways to control your blood sugar. A healthy diet consists of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – foods that are high in nutrition and fiber and low in bad fats and calories—and limits highly refined carbohydrates, including sweets.
Regular physical activity and safe exercising is also recommended. Exercise naturally lowers your blood sugar by stimulating your body to move glucose into cells, where it’s used for energy. Exercise will not only help with your gestational diabetes, but it will also help relieve some of the common discomforts of pregnancy like back pain, muscle cramps, swelling, and constipation. If you are not used to regular exercise, start slowly and do not over exert yourself.
If diet and exercise are not enough, your doctor may recommend insulin injections to control your blood sugar or an oral blood sugar medication. Only 10 to 20 percent of women with gestational diabetes need to take medication.