What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes
No matter how much we hope and pray for a normal and uneventful pregnancy, more often than not, we may end up having one or two hiccups along the way. Thankfully, with all the medical advances, information and research that have been done, most of these complications can be resolved in such a way that it does not affect our little one. One such complication that many pregnant women face is gestational diabetes or GDM.
GDM is unique in that it only appears during pregnancy, and affects women who were not diabetic before the pregnancy. In most cases, GDM also resolves once the baby is born. However, it is important to take special care to control gestational diabetes so that it does not affect the baby adversely.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
The food we eat is broken down into glucose (or sugar). GDM results when your pancreas isn't capable of producing sufficient levels of insulin. Insulin basically moves glucose being produced in your body to be converted into energy. As is normal during pregnancy, the levels of hormones fluctuate as well as cause other changes, such as weight gain. These changes cause our body to use insulin that is being produced less effectively, which, in turn, leads to increased levels of glucose, or gestational diabetes.
As with most other conditions, your chances of developing GDM are greater if you meet certain criteria. Of course, having these risk factors by no means guarantees you will develop GDM, but the likelihood is high. Some of these risk factors include:
- Age: Women over the age of 25 have a greater chance of developing GDM
- Race: African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic or Latin women have higher prevelance of GDM
- Being overweight
- Have a family history of diabetes or if you are pre-diabetic yourself
- Have a history of gestational diabetes with previous pregnancies or have given birth to a child weighing more than 9 pounds
GDM is usually diagnosed between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. You will do the Screening Glucose Challenge Test where you will drink a high glucose beverage and have your blood glucose tested an hour later. Depending on the results of this test, you may have to do an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test. This test requires fasting for at least 8 hours prior (no solid foods and only water). Once again, you will drink a high glucose beverage and your blood glucose levels will be tested at different intervals. The results of this test will help determine if you have GDM.
Treatment of GDM usually involves diet and nutrition, physical activity and medications (including oral tablets or insulin shots). It is always important to maintain a healthy diet, but it is especially so if you have been diagnosed with GDM. The National Institute of Health has an excellent resource (available here) that provides in-depth information about making healthy food choices while pregnant or dealing with GDM. Physical activity should include but not be limited to brisk walking for at least 30 minutes most days of the week and aerobic activities such as swimming or dancing. You may also have to take oral medications to control GDM, in addition to insulin shots.
Complications of GDM
Untreated or uncontrolled GDM can affect not only you, but in some cases, the baby as well. The baby could have excessive birth weight, which could lead to birth injuries or even a C-section birth. The baby could be born premature or have breathing issues such as respiratory distress syndrome. The baby could have low blood sugar which can lead to seizures, or may even be at risk to develop diabetes later on. GDM can also increase the mother's risk of having high blood pressure and diabetes post-pregnancy.
It is easy to get discouraged when facing complications during pregnancy. But armed with information, along with a balanced diet and exercise, gestational diabetes can be controlled. Make sure to keep the channels of communication open with your doctors and seek out support groups that can help you through the process.
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Take care and happy pregnancy!
- Anita Koppuzhayil