Women need to take better care of their health during pregnancy. They should be extra cautious during this crucial period for the sake of their own and the baby’s overall health. Hence, they should regularly monitor their health parameters so that any imbalance can be corrected before it becomes a health issue. 

Gestational diabetes or gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is one such condition women should watch for. If you have it during pregnancy, you should immediately contact your specialist doctor for a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Overview of Gestational Diabetes 

Some women are likely to have high blood sugar levels. This health condition is called gestational diabetes or GDM. In pregnancy, this condition may happen during the 24-28 weeks. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USA have stated that 2 to 10 percent pregnancies fall in this category. However, you need not worry that you already had diabetes or would become diabetic post-pregnancy. GDM makes you prone to develop type 2 diabetes. If you are not aware of the condition or ignore it during pregnancy, your child is likely to develop it in the future. It may prove risky during pregnancy and at the time of giving birth to the baby. 

Cause of GDM

What exactly causes GDM is not known. Hormones secreted during pregnancy are most likely responsible for the condition. Following hormones are released when one is pregnant:  

a) Human placental lactogen (hPL) &

b) Hormones that cause the body’s resistance to insulin 

The role of these hormones is to affect the placenta and withstand pregnancy. During the course of pregnancy, their levels go up significantly. This develops resistance to insulin, which controls blood sugar.

The function of insulin is to remove glucose from the blood and deposit it in cells. Glucose is meant to provide energy. It becomes a natural tendency of your body to be resistant to insulin during pregnancy. Hence, a raised glucose level is passed on to the child. There is likely an abnormal rise in glucose in your blood in the case of increased resistance to insulin. It leads to GDM.

Who Can Get Gestational Diabetes?

You run a high risk of getting GDM during pregnancy, if:

  • your body mass index (BMI) crosses 30 
  • your age is above 25 years
  • you are prone to high blood pressure
  • fall in the overweight category before your pregnancy
  • you tend to get overweight during pregnancy 
  • your earlier baby’s weight at birth was 4.5kg or more 
  • you have a history of GDM during pregnancy
  • either of your parents or siblings is diabetic
  • you or your parents have Black, South Asian, Middle Eastern or African-Caribbean ancestry 
  • had an unexplained stillbirth or miscarriage 
  • you are taking glucocorticoids
  • you have conditions such as acanthosis nigricans or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) causing insulin resistance

If you have one or more of the conditions as mentioned above, you should undergo screening for GDM during pregnancy

Recommended Post: Women & Diabetes FAQs

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes 

The symptoms of GDM are likely to go unnoticed as they also appear as a part of a regular pregnancy. However, screening for GDM may reveal high blood sugar levels.

If the following symptoms are observed, you are likely to have GDM:

  • Frequent thirst
  • If you visit urinals more often
  • Dryness of mouth
  • If you are often feeling tired

In the case of these symptoms, contact your specialist doctor as early as possible, who would conduct a test for GDM. If you test positive for the condition, you would need check-ups frequently. They would be performed during the last term of your pregnancy.

Problems Caused by Gestational Diabetes

The high blood sugar levels are caused due to GDM, if not checked, and it can result in the following problems for the baby and the pregnant woman:

  • Baby size

The blood sugar levels of the baby increase if GDM is not controlled. The baby overgrows due to ‘overfeeding.’ An oversized baby becomes a cause for discomfort for the pregnant woman in the last term of her pregnancy. This also leads to complications for the woman and the baby at the time of giving birth. This may call for a Cesarean Section at the time of delivery. The baby may suffer nerve damage following pressure on its shoulder during birth.

  • C-section

A Cesarean Section is a surgery needed to deliver the child from the mother’s womb. A pregnant woman having the condition of GDM is most likely to undergo a Cesarean Section while giving birth to her child. It takes a long time for a woman post-delivery to recover from childbirth if she has undergone a Cesarean Section.

  • Low Blood Sugar 

Blood sugar levels of women with GDM, who consume insulin or other medicines for the condition, may drastically drop. It is high risk and may lead to fatality if not controlled immediately. Women with GDM can keep in check alarming low blood sugar levels if they monitor blood sugar and take timely treatment.

If a woman with GDM fails to control the condition during pregnancy, the baby may be born with low blood sugar levels. Its blood sugar has to be monitored for many hours thereafter.

  • High Blood Pressure (HBP)

A pregnant woman with HBP and protein in urine frequently gets swollen fingers, toes. Doctors need to observe this closely as it has serious consequences. HBP is a risk for the pregnant woman and the baby. It can cause pre-mature delivery, seizures, or a stroke just before and during delivery. Women with GDM are more likely to have HBP than those who do not have GDM.

Prevention of Diabetes During Pregnancy

Though there are no guaranteed preventive measures against GDM, one can inculcate certain lifestyle changes that can lessen its risk. Moreover, you will have to learn diabetes controlling skills immediately from the moment you realize that you have the condition. You should consult a dietitian and a diabetes educator to start with. The diabetes educator will explain to you the time and method of measuring your blood sugar. The dietitian will educate you on your diet plan as well as an exercise in order to control the blood sugar level. They will also advise you on taking prescribed medications.

  • Balanced Diet

Diet rich in fiber and has low fats, calories should be taken. Intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is beneficial. Consume food in smaller portions but do not compromise on nutrition and taste. Instead of eating two heavy meals a day, you can eat four meals of smaller portions spaced out during the day. You should not skip meals. Do not cross the carbohydrate limit set by your doctor. However, ruling out carbohydrates from your diet is also not the right choice. Carbohydrates provide fuel for you and your baby. According to experts, lunch and dinner can supply carbohydrates you need through fruits (including skin), vegetables, milk products, and whole grains. To maintain an optimum blood sugar level and avert frequent hunger pangs, you should have a high-fiber, low-glycemic diet.

Avoid consuming sugar, including hot and cold drinks containing sugar such as tea and soft drinks. Experts say such drinks help accelerate the blood sugar levels. Hence you should say ‘no’ to them. Keep hydrated as drinking a good amount of water is recommended during pregnancy. You may also consume low-fat milk.

  • Physical Regime

Daily moderate regimen for 30 minutes will keep GDM in check. This should be diligently followed before and after the delivery. It should ideally include a brisk walk, swimming, biking, and yoga. Try to avoid riding two-wheelers or driving for short distances, and you can instead walk down to nearby places to buy essentials.

  • Weight Control

Weight control is a must before pregnancy. Take a healthy diet and get rid of unhealthy eating habits permanently. In the normal course of pregnancy, women put on some weight. However, avoid putting on more weight than the acceptable level. Discuss with your doctor to find out the right weight. However, losing weight during pregnancy should be strictly done as per your doctor’s instructions.

  • Sleep

Sleep plays an important part in controlling gestational diabetes. Its risk rises if you do not get good sleep. Snoring can be a hurdle in checking the blood sugar level, states a study appeared in BMC Women’s Health. It is known that sleep disturbances and pregnancy go hand in hand. If you do not find it possible to have a sound sleep, please consult your doctor.

Only breastfeeding is recommended for women with gestational diabetes and their babies. In this case, breast milk is the only food source for the baby. According to research, exclusive breastfeeding helps women to check their weight and lowers the risk of diabetes. It is also probably good for the child’s overall health in the future. Visit a lactation specialist for more detailed knowledge of breastfeeding. 

References

Gestational diabetes during Pregnancy: Reference from mayoclinic.org and healthline.com

Causes & Symptoms of Gestational diabetes: Reference from healthline.com and nhs.uk

Problems & Risk Factors: Reference from cdc.gov and webmd.com

Prevention: Reference from mayoclinic.org