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Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy.  It often causes no symptoms and it usually resolves spontaneously after delivery.  So why is it absolutely critical to detect and treat gestational diabetes?

 

Why would a type of diabetes develop specifically during pregnancy?

The high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, that characterizes gestational diabetes occurs because the placenta releases hormones that work against insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that lowers our blood sugar. Throughout most of the pregnancy, the normal pancreas produces extra insulin to keep blood sugar at a healthy level.  In women with gestational diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough extra insulin, and hyperglycemia develops.

 

What problems can gestational diabetes cause?

Gestational diabetes can cause serious health problems for both mothers and babies.

Babies tend to be very large at delivery – they typically weigh over 4 Kg. If not delivered by C-section (surgical delivery), large babies are more likely to become stuck in the birth canal and/or be injured during the birth process. If they are delivered early in order to reduce that risk, their lungs might not yet be fully developed. In addition, these newborns have an increased risk of:

  • jaundice
  • respiratory distress syndrome
  • feeding difficulties
  • birth defects
  • poor muscle tone
  • seizures
  • hypoglycemia

As children and adults, they have an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.

Mothers with this condition have a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia, a high-blood-pressure condition that is life-threatening to both mother and baby. Women with gestational diabetes have a higher C-section rate, and maternal death rates are higher in C-sections than in vaginal births.

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Although blood sugar levels usually return to normal after delivery, up to 60% of women with gestational diabetes will eventually develop Type 2 diabetes. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight after delivery is a significant factor in preventing the development of diabetes.

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How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

The condition is most commonly diagnosed by an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) around the 24th – 28th week of pregnancy. In an OGTT the woman drinks a solution of glucose, and her blood is drawn and tested over the following 2 hours. If the blood sugar level is too high, she is diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

 

How is gestational diabetes treated?

For some women, eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise will keep blood sugar in a healthy range. If a healthier diet and more exercise don’t reduce blood sugar enough, the doctor will most likely recommend insulin injections or an oral medication to reduce blood sugar. The mother will be shown how to check her blood sugar at home, and she will have more frequent check-ups to monitor her health and the baby’s growth and development.

 

What are the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes?

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Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include:

  • obesity
  • older maternal age
  • gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • having a close relative with diabetes
  • having high blood pressure
  • triglyceride level higher than 250 mg/dL
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • a diagnosis of prediabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • a sedentary lifestyle.

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How can gestational diabetes be prevented?

Preventing gestational diabetes is similar to preventing Type 2 diabetes and includes at least 30 minutes of exercise 5x per week and eating a healthy diet. Most forms of exercise are fine, especially if they have been part of a normal routine, but it’s important to ask the doctor about any restrictions or extra safety precautions.

Women should make sure not to gain more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy. And any necessary weight loss should be achieved prior to becoming pregnant – not during pregnancy.

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Managing gestational diabetes is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary in order to protect a baby’s health – and the health of the baby’s mother! It’s important to have confidence in the obstetrician and to have lots of support from family and friends.

How Halza helps

Halza makes managing your gestational diabetes easy.

Store, track & share your medical records on the app, including your blood glucose levels to monitor your condition at your convenience.

Maintain a healthy weight and the condition at bay by recording daily weigh-ins with the Weight Management feature.

With Halza, you can also communicate privately with doctors, family, and friends to update them on your healthy journey whenever you wish.

Download the app now!

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Sources: ACOGMedscape