Gestational diabetes is a condition that affects about 135,000 pregnant women in the United States. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and can cause harm to the mother and baby if left untreated. It is a cause for concern, but if you work with your doctor and follow a treatment plan it will certainly help.
During pregnancy a woman’s body goes through hormonal changes, which affect many body systems. These hormones can block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. This is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it difficult for the mother’s body to use insulin. When the mother’s body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs during pregnancy the result is gestational diabetes. Without enough insulin glucose cannot leave the body and builds up in the blood.
Usually a doctor will do a blood glucose test around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy to make sure the mother has not developed gestational diabetes. It is a simple test. A sweet sugary drink is given to the mother. This drink must be consumed in a 2-5 minute period. After one hour a finger stick is done to determine the mother’s blood sugar level. Approximately 15-23% of pregnant women get a high result. Those who do not are in the clear and do not need additional tests.
A high level is typically anything over 130mg or 140mg. In this case a three hour blood glucose test is given on another day. Most offices require the mother to be fasting since midnight the night before the test and only allowed water to drink before the test. The three hour blood glucose begins with a blood draw, usually from the arm, then the same sugary drink is given and must be finished within 2-5 minutes. At this time the mother cannot drink or eat anything, including water. The mother’s blood will be drawn every hour for three hours after this.
If the mother still comes back with high blood glucose readings the doctor will discuss treatment plans. Treatment involves following a diet plan from your doctor, exercise, careful blood glucose monitoring and in some cases medications and injections. This condition usually goes away once the baby is born. Very few women continue to have diabetes once the baby is born.
If gestational diabetes is poorly controlled during pregnancy the high blood sugar levels can pass from the mother through the placenta and to the baby. This can cause the baby to grow very large (a condition called macrosomia) and cause complications at birth. Some women may need a C-Section due to the baby’s large size. When a mother has gestational diabetes the baby’s body makes more insulin to control the high glucose levels. After birth this extra insulin can cause the baby’s glucose levels to drop too low, which causes hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar. This condition needs to be treated. Babies born with excessive insulin are more likely to develop obesity in childhood and are at a risk to develop type 2 diabetes in adulthood.
No one knows who will develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. It is wise though to follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you do develop it to hopefully prevent most of, if not all of these problems.