About 18 percent of pregnant women develop high levels of blood sugar during pregnancy. This condition is referred to as gestational diabetes (GDM). It usually occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy and it involves elevated blood sugar levels due to pregnancy hormones. Learn the basics about gestational diabetes and what it means to you and your baby.
- Find out if you could be prone to developing gestational diabetes. Most women diagnosed with gestational diabetes never had diabetes. A number of experts believe pregnancy hormones play a role. Increased hormone levels may interfere with the effects of insulin which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. A lack of insulin causes blood sugar levels to increase. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include a family history of diabetes, being overweight prior to pregnancy and giving birth to babies over 9 pounds in the past. Other risk factors are being over 25 years old, increased blood pressure and being of Hispanic, African American or Indian descent. Having sugar in the urine or a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome can also be risk factors in gestational diabetes.
- Know the symptoms and schedule regular medical and lab appointments for timely diagnosis of gestational diabetes. Most women do not experience symptoms of gestational diabetes or simply attribute them to being pregnant. Symptoms may include fatigue, excessive urination and feeling thirsty as well as nausea, bladder infections and blurred vision. You may gain or lose weight even when you eat properly. Early diagnosis is important to protect your health and the health of your baby. Most obstetricians screen pregnant patients for high blood sugar between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. You are advised not to eat for eight hours before the test. The lab technician gives you a special drink with sugar then takes blood every hour for three hours after drinking the beverage. If your blood shows higher numbers than normal, your doctor will confirm that you have gestational diabetes. Additional blood tests may be ordered.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly to minimize the symptoms. There are various ways to treat gestational diabetes. Your health care team may advise a low carbohydrate diet with fruit, vegetables and whole grains along with low-fat dairy and lean proteins. If you are physically able the doctor will recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Home care and a self-management plan help keep gestational diabetes in control. Always consult your doctor before starting any diet or exercise plan during pregnancy.
- Follow instructions from your health care team about blood sugar testing and medication. Diet and exercise may not be enough. Your doctor may advise you to monitor your blood sugar levels daily using diabetes supplies such as a glucose monitor. These daily results are recorded and shared during each medical visit. Some patients are prescribed insulin injections until the baby is delivered. Usually the doctor recommends carrying glucose tablets in case your blood sugar drops. Signs of low blood sugar include feeling weak and light-headed. If these symptoms persist you should get immediate medical attention.
- Protect your health and the health of your baby. In the majority of cases the blood sugar in patients with gestational diabetes returns to normal after delivery. It is crucial to follow your doctor’s treatment plan during pregnancy to avoid health problems for you and your baby. Complications your baby could experience include lower blood sugar, large size at birth and breathing issues. Women who had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 10 to 20 years. They should maintain healthy lifestyle choices such as a well-balanced diet and regular exercise to ward off these health conditions.
Pregnant women should schedule regular doctor and lab appointments to detect gestational diabetes as early as possible. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise can minimize the impact of gestational diabetes. Following the treatment plan recommended by your doctor helps protect your health and the health of your baby.