Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. An expectant mother’s blood sugar levels become too high, which can cause health risks for the mother and baby.
Doctors don’t know the cause of gestational diabetes, but it may be related to hormones that are produced during pregnancy. Sometimes, these hormones block insulin to the mother’s body, causing “insulin resistance.” Insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin. Insulin helps to control blood sugar levels.
Who is affected by gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes can occur in pregnant women who have never had diabetes and whose high blood sugar levels are first detected during pregnancy. It is not the same as being diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes before becoming pregnant. Each year, up to 10% of pregnant women in the U.S. develop gestational diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Healthcare providers usually test pregnant women for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
How do you test for gestational diabetes?
There are two different ways to test for gestational diabetes.
- Two-part test: This is the most common method used in the U.S. The mother’s blood sugar is measured one hour after consuming a sugary drink. If her blood sugar level is higher than 200mg/dl, an oral glucose tolerance test will be given. For the oral glucose tolerance test, the mother will fast (no eating) overnight. Blood sugar levels are then measured while fasting, and then one, two, and three hours after consuming the sugary drink.
- One-part test: Fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels are measured, and then again one hour and two hours after the mother consumes a sugary drink.
Who is at risk of developing gestational diabetes?
Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include:
- Obesity or excess weight
- Not getting enough exercise
- A history of gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, or a family history of type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
- Previously giving birth to a baby 9 pounds or heavier
- High blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or a history of heart disease
- Women of the following ethnicities: African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Island
- Women older than 25
How do you treat gestational diabetes?
It is important to act quickly to treat gestational diabetes. Eating healthy foods in the right amounts and regular exercise can help. Healthcare providers will discuss the level of exercise that is safe. Treatment can also include daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections.
How does gestational diabetes affect pregnancy?
If left untreated, gestational diabetes can lead to health concerns during pregnancy, such as:
- Giving birth to a large baby (weighing more than 9 pounds), increasing the risk of injury during birth for both the baby and the mother.
- Increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and stillbirths.
- High blood pressure, which can affect both long-term and short-term health.
- Preeclampsia, a serious complication where the expectant mother has high blood pressure with possible kidney or liver damage.
What effects does gestational diabetes have after pregnancy?
- If blood glucose levels remain high after giving birth, it’s likely that the mother has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- Women who get gestational diabetes have an increased chance of later developing type 2 diabetes. Eating healthy and getting exercise lessens the risk.
Talk to a healthcare professional about appropriate screening and follow-up.
Visit fideliscare.org/diabetes to learn more about diabetes.