Gestational diabetes (GD) is a type of diabetes where the blood sugar levels are higher than normal and are experienced by some women during pregnancy. If untreated and uncontrolled, gestational diabetes can affect the mother and the baby. The baby may grow large, and there may be difficulties during childbirth. Premature birth and respiratory distress in the new-born are other problems associated with the condition. Getting the right treatment and controlling blood glucose levels makes most women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. One can also reduce the chances of developing gestational diabetes by adopting healthy habits before pregnancy.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Hormonal changes that occur in women during pregnancy is the main cause of gestational diabetes. The placenta that provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing foetus also produces a few hormones to maintain pregnancy. These hormones that include cortisol, estrogen, and human placental lactogen, can block the effect of the mother’s insulin. As a result, the cells are unable to utilize insulin effectively (referred to as insulin resistance). Many pregnant women who experience insulin resistance during late pregnancy can produce more insulin to overcome the insulin resistance. However, a few women cannot meet the increased demand and hence, develop gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes may develop in women who did not have diabetes before and is usually seen in the second trimester between 24 and 28 weeks into pregnancy. If not detected and managed rightly, gestational diabetes can cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and the child may be at risk of developing diabetes.
Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes
Any woman can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy and some insulin resistance is common during the later stages of pregnancy. However, there are a few factors that are known to increase the risk:
- Being overweight
- A parent or sibling having type 2 diabetes
- Previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes
- Previous childbirth where the weight of the baby was over 4.5kg
- Having prediabetes (sugar levels more than normal but not as high as diabetes).
What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
People with gestational diabetes usually do not experience any symptoms but sometimes may show mild symptoms like
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Dry mouth
As there are no obvious symptoms, the condition is usually detected when blood glucose levels are tested during routine screening for gestational diabetes.
Does gestational diabetes turn into type 2 diabetes later on?
Though blood sugar levels in the mother return to normal about six weeks after childbirth but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 50% of women having gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes later in life. The risk can be lowered by maintaining a healthy weight after childbirth, making healthy food choices, and being physically active. Doctors recommend that women with gestational diabetes get their blood glucose levels tested 6 to 12 weeks after the delivery (postpartum) and every 1 to 3 years later to ensure the sugar levels stay in a healthy range.
For a woman with gestational diabetes, one of the essential components for managing the condition is their diet. Diet needs to be tailored to meet the nutritional needs of the mother and the baby, and at the same time, keep the blood glucose levels under control. Doctors also recommend regular exercise, which aids in controlling blood glucose. Also, women with a history of gestational diabetes need to get screened for diabetes after childbirth as they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.