What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious medical condition, characterized by chronically elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Glucose isn’t inherently bad for you; in fact, it is an essential sugar that fuels the body. The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, plays a crucial role in absorbing glucose from the bloodstream, so it can be converted into energy.
With diabetes, poor insulin production, or insulin resistance, interferes with your ability to absorb glucose. This is why diabetes patients must continually monitor their blood sugar levels to manage their disease.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes impairs your body’s ability to absorb glucose, and leads to high blood sugar levels. When you get pregnant, the placenta produces a number of hormones to help regulate the baby’s nourishment. Oddly enough, nearly all of these hormones impair the ability of insulin to do its job. This raises your blood sugar levels, and in fact, most women will see elevated blood sugar after a meal throughout their pregnancy. This is perfectly normal.
However, as the pregnancy reaches the later stages, it can become difficult for the woman’s blood sugar to level out. When her body detects a heightened level of glucose in the blood, it produces more insulin to try to get it under control. She could then develop an insulin resistance, leading to gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can be dangerous, and it 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 you can manage these risks with proper prenatal care and careful glucose monitoring.
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 watch out for signs of the disease. Women who had diabetes prior to their pregnancy, whether diagnosed or not, will have the condition for life.
What are some Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes?
Some women are more at risk for gestational diabetes than others. Your risk may be greater if you:
- Are overweight
- Are 26 or older
- Have a history of gestational diabetes in a past pregnancy
- Had a very large baby in a past pregnancy
- Experienced a stillbirth in the past
- Have 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 food diary for your prenatal appointments.
If diet and exercise alone cannot keep your bloodsugar down, you may need to take medication or insulin injections.
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. Talk to your doctor about the warning signs of childhood diabetes, such as rapid growth or weight gain in the first few years of life.