Gestational Diabetes

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Gestational Diabetes

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What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that appears only during pregnancy.

Between 6 and 9 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What causes gestational diabetes?

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the body's metabolism of fats and carbs, and helps the body turn sugar into energy.

Gestational diabetes occurs when hormones from the placenta block insulin, preventing the body from regulating the increased blood sugar of pregnancy effectively.

This causes hyperglycemia (or high levels of sugar in the blood), which can damage the nerves, blood vessels and organs in your body.

When does gestational diabetes usually begin?

Gestational diabetes is usually evaluated between week 24 and week 28 of pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

Most women with gestational diabetes have no symptoms, though a few who may have overt diabetes may experience:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination in large amounts (distinguished from the also frequent but usually light urination of early pregnancy)
  • Fatigue (which may be difficult to differentiate from normal pregnancy fatigue)
  • Sugar in the urine (detected at a routine practitioner visit)

How is gestational diabetes treated?

Fortunately, you can eliminate virtually all of the potential risks associated with diabetes in pregnancy by carefully controlling your blood sugar levels.

If you’re diagnosed with GDM, doctors and researchers recommend the following:

  • Monitor your blood sugar level several times a day. Check first thing in the morning to get your fasting rate and then an hour after you eat each meal to make sure your blood sugar stays in a healthy range (suggested by your doctor). Most doctors suggest that you buy a diabetes kit, which includes needles to prick your finger and a little machine that reads your blood sugar. Don’t worry, the finger prick doesn’t hurt, and it’s the most accurate way to tell how your body is processing various foods. It’s empowering when you make healthy food choices and your blood sugar reading is good — you’re taking an active role in your own health (and, of course, your baby’s).
  • Meet with a registered dietitian. She can help you review healthy food options and make a meal plan. Many women stick to their “gestational diabetes” diet of well-balanced meals long after birth.
  • Keep a food log. After each meal, write down everything you ate along with your blood glucose number. This helps you to better understand what foods are spiking your glucose levels so you can avoid them.
  • Get moving. Go for a walk or take the stairs after a meal to lower your glucose levels.

Diet and exercise are often enough to control gestational diabetes — but if they don’t, your doctor may suggest that you take supplementary insulin to control it.

Supplementary insulin can be given in shots, though the oral drug glyburide (a diabetes medication that helps the pancreas produce insulin) is being prescribed more and more often for GDM.

Your doctor may suggest additional fetal monitoring in your third trimester, including either nonstress tests and/or biophysical profiles, to make sure your baby’s heart rate, amniotic fluid levels and movements are normal.