About 9 percent of pregnant women experience gestational diabetes, according to the CDC, and studies show it’s on the rise.
It’s the type of diabetes that comes on during pregnancy, and is often diagnosed on screening tests between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy.
Fortunately, with careful monitoring and treatment, it can be managed.
Since November is Diabetes Awareness Month, find out what it is, who’s most at risk, and what you can do if diagnosed with gestational diabetes to keep you and your baby healthy.
“Women who have had gestational diabetes in a prior pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing it again,” said Dr. Katherine Wolfe, a perinatologist and director of the diabetes and pregnancy program at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Other risk factors can include if a woman had a large baby in a prior pregnancy, has glucose intolerance, or is overweight or obese.”
While doctors aren’t sure what causes gestational diabetes, it’s believed that hormones from the placenta may block the action of insulin in the mother.
This means the mother needs more insulin and sometimes her pancreas cannot make enough to transport the sugar in the blood into the cells for energy. The mother’s blood has high levels of glucose, which can cross the placenta, giving the growing baby a high blood sugar level.
In response, the baby’s pancreas starts making extra insulin to transport the sugar into the cells to be used for energy. When the pancreas can’t keep up, the extra blood sugar is stored as fat on the baby, and that can lead to health problems for the unborn baby.
Infants of diabetic mothers are at risk for abnormal growth, premature delivery, stillbirth and breathing problems, among other issues.
If your doctor diagnoses you with gestational diabetes, it’s likely that you’ll be started on a treatment plan aimed at getting glucose levels under control. This includes a plan to manage your nutrition, physical activity and weight gain.
“Pregnancies complicated by gestational diabetes should have a consultation with a dietitian to optimize nutrition in pregnancy,” said Dr. Wolfe. “Also, pregnant moms with gestational diabetes will need to check their blood sugar several times a day, and medication will be needed for some women.”
While most diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy resolves after delivery, some women will have gestational diabetes during future pregnancies and some may be more likely to develop diabetes as they get older.
“Up to 50 percent of women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime,” Dr. Wolfe said. “Breastfeeding, healthy nutrition, exercise and achieving a healthy weight will each decrease their risk.”