What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious medical condition that is characterized by chronically elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels. Glucose is an essential sugar that the body converts to energy. Glucose is absorbed from the blood to the body’s cells with the help of the hormone insulin. With diabetes, glucose is unable to get into the cell, either because of poor insulin production or insulin resistance. This causes the glucose in the blood to remain high.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
When a woman becomes pregnant, the hormones produced by the placenta can impair insulin’s function. In response to the heightened glucose in the blood, the body produces more insulin to assist in regulating the glucose levels. A woman can then develop insulin resistance, which can lead to gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can be a dangerous health condition and requires careful monitoring by an OB-GYN. Having the disease increases the baby’s risk of:
- Growing very large inside the mother, also known as macrosomia
- High birth weight
- Pre-term labor
- Low glucose levels
Keep in mind that the risk of these conditions decreases when the mother and her doctor do their due diligence in prenatal care, by carefully monitoring glucose levels in the mother.
Fortunately, most cases of gestational diabetes disappear after pregnancy. However, these women and their babies will always have an increased risk of diabetes in the future, and must carefully monitor their health for signs of the disease. Women who had a previously undiagnosed case of diabetes, however, will have the condition for life.
What are some Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes?
Some women have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. The demographic and health factors that increase the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes are:
- Age 26 or older
- History of gestational diabetes in a past pregnancy
- Very large baby in a past pregnancy
- Past stillbirth
- African-American, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Latina, or Native-American heritage
The most important part of treating gestational diabetes is keeping the blood’s glucose levels under control. Many people can do this with a healthy diet and regular exercise. You may need to check your blood sugar daily with a finger pricking device and keep a detailed log for your doctor to examine.
If diet and exercise alone cannot keep your glucose levels down, you may need to take oral medication or injections of insulin.
Once your child is born, you should get tested for diabetes 8-10 weeks after the delivery. Even if the test results are normal, your doctor may recommend you get re-tested once every three years. As your child grows, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on his or her health and watch for warning signs of diabetes, such as rapid growth or weight gain in the first few years of life.