Just because you didn't have diabetes before you conceived doesn't mean you won't have it during (or after) your pregnancy. Gestational diabetes, which usually develops around the 24th week, affects about 18 percent of pregnancies, making it one of the most common prenatal complications. The exact cause isn't known, but in a nutshell, it means you have particularly high levels of sugar in your blood, which can affect both your pregnancy and the health of your baby.
Of course, any health issue is alarming when you're pregnant, but gestational diabetes can be controlled if proper precautions are taken, and your blood sugar will more than likely return to normal after you give birth.
Here's everything you need to know.
THE SYMPTOMS Most women don't have any noticeable symptoms, which is why pregnant women generally take a glucose screening test between 24 to 28 weeks. What the test is like: Your doctor will give you a sugary (not-so-great-tasting) drink containing 50 grams of glucose, which you'll have 5 minutes to drink. An hour later, a nurse will draw your blood in order to see how your body processes sugar, and the results will be back in a few days. If your results come back positive, it doesn't necessarily mean you have gestational diabetes, but you will have to take another, more involved test, called a glucose tolerance test, which will tell you for sure.
WHO'S AT RISK? Gestational diabetes doesn't discriminate and anyone can get it during pregnancy, but there are a few factors that put you at an increased risk:
- You're older than 25.
- You or someone in your family has had diabetes. If you've been diagnosed with prediabetes before, which is the precursor to type 2 diabetes, you may be at an increased risk for gestational diabetes. Also, having a close family member with type 2 diabetes may make you more susceptible.
- You've had gestational diabetes before or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds.
- You had an unexplained stillbirth.
- You have a body mass index of 30 or higher.
- You're among one of the following races: Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian. For unknown reasons, these women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
HOW WILL GESTATIONAL DIABETES AFFECT MY PREGNANCY & MY BABY? Most women with gestational diabetes will have perfectly healthy babies and pregnancies, but if blood sugar levels aren't carefully managed, complications can arise, such as an increased risk of a C-section. "If patients don't keep their blood sugar levels under control, it will go straight to their baby's blood," says Daniel Roshan, M.D., a high-risk OBGYN in New York City. "Too much glucose causes the baby to gain excessive weight, as well as urinate more, which leads to excess fluid around the baby that could cause over-stretching of the uterus, premature labor, or premature breakage of the bag of water. Also, the bigger the baby, the more risk for trauma during delivery and the higher the chance for a C-section." Other risks include:
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in babies. Sometimes babies of mothers with gestational diabetes develop hypoglycemia shortly after birth, which could cause seizures.
- Type 2 diabetes later in life. Babies of mothers who had gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes the older they get.
- Death. Gestational diabetes that goes untreated can result in a baby's death before or shortly after birth.
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia. Moms with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia during their pregnancy.
- Repeat gestational diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes with one pregnancy, you're more likely to get it again during your next. And although rare, you're also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life.
HOW DO I MANAGE GESTATIONAL DIABETES? Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, consisting of the proper balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, is crucial to keeping gestational diabetes in check, as is avoiding sugar-laden treats, such as cakes and cookies (sorry). Talk to your doctor about creating a diet that works for you, and try to get around 30 minutes of light exercise, such as walking or swimming, every day. Also, if you do have gestational diabetes, you'll have more frequent checkups, particularly during your last trimester. Your doctor will want to keep a close watch on your glucose levels, and she may even ask you to monitor your levels at home using a home glucose meter or strips.
Have you ever had gestational diabetes?
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