Gestational Diabetes: What is it?

Everything you need to know about gestational diabetes


Affecting between 4–10% of all pregnant women, gestational diabetes is one of the most common health conditions during pregnancy. It is a manageable condition that usually goes away shortly after giving birth. Here is what you need to know about gestational diabetes.

What Is It?

Diabetes is a complicated disease with many different manifestations, but, in a nutshell, it means that your body is not producing enough insulin. The lack of insulin causes a build up of too much sugar in your blood. When you are pregnant, the changes to your hormones can make your cells less responsive to insulin. For the majority of women, this is not a problem because your pancreas will pick up the slack and give you more insulin when needed. But some pancreases can’t keep up with the increased demand and this results in gestational diabetes.

What Are The Symptoms?

Here’s the tricky part: there are no visible symptoms. This is why most women are screened for gestational diabetes at 24 to 28 weeks.

What Does GD Mean For The Baby?

If properly controlled, gestational diabetes will not have any affect on your baby. Most babies are born happy and healthy to moms with GD. But, if you are not in control, your blood sugar levels will be too high and your baby’s levels will also be high, prompting their pancreas to release more insulin. The increased levels of sugar and insulin can cause weight gain, difficulties during labour and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) after birth. Your health care providers will monitor your newborn’s blood sugars to ensure they are within range after birth. 

Very poor control is linked to polycythemia (an increase in the number of red cells in the blood) and hypocalcemia (low calcium in the blood) and can possibly affect your baby’s heart function. Therefore, it is very important for moms-to-be to keep their sugar levels within the healthy range (5.3-7.8 mmol/L).

How Is It Controlled?

In most cases, gestational diabetes can be controlled with a nutritional diet and regular exercise. Speak to a registered dietician to help you set a meal plan that is tailored to your specific needs. Don’t skip meals and try to avoid extremely sugary snacks, such as cookies, candy and soda. Moderate exercise will help your body process glucose, so try to get 30 minutes each day. 

Some women, about 15%, will require the use of medication to control their blood sugar levels. Current practice is for doctors to begin expecting moms on oral medication before progressing to injections, if necessary.  

Will GB Increase The Likelihood Of Getting Diabetes? 

Between 30–50% of women who have gestational diabetes will have it again in a later pregnancy and up to 50% of women will develop diabetes at some point in their lives. There are key factors that increase your risk, including:

  • Obesity
  • High blood sugar levels during pregnancy
  • When gestational diabetes was diagnosed early in pregnancy
  • The result of your postpartum glucose test was borderline 

What Can Minimize The Risk Of Future Development?

Like many illnesses, keeping your weight at a healthy level, making healthy choices while eating and exercising regularly, can reduce the risk of reoccurrence. Research suggests that breastfeeding may also decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What Can Minimize The Risk For The Child?

Most importantly, expecting moms should do all they can to keep their blood sugar levels in check throughout their pregnancy. Throughout childhood, it is important to maintain a healthy diet for your child and ensure that they are getting plenty of exercise, as they will be at a higher risk rate for childhood and adult obesity. And finally, ensure that your child’s doctor is aware that you had GD during your pregnancy.

It may be hard to deny yourself when the cravings hit, but with a proper diet and moderate exercise, gestational diabetes doesn’t have to derail your pregnancy. It could even be the factor that helps you to stay fit and healthy throughout your pregnancy! 

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