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Gestational Diabetes: 8 Facts You Need to Know

If you are trying to get pregnant or are currently in the early stages of pregnancy, you probably have concerns about certain pregnancy-related health issues and risks. One condition that many mothers have heard of and are concerned about is gestational diabetes.

According to the CDC, gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes seen in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes prior to pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to process sugar and convert it into energy. This leads to high glucose levels in the blood (hyperglycemia). 

If you have concerns about gestational diabetes, it is best to consult your doctor. But there are some important things you should know about it in the meantime. 

1. Gestational Diabetes Occurs During the Middle of Pregnancy

Doctors usually begin testing for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks. However, if you are overweight, older than 35, or have a family history of diabetes, you may be tested earlier and more frequently.

2. If You Have Symptoms, See Your Doctor ASAP

If you think you have gestational diabetes, do not wait until the standard 24 to 28 weeks to get tested. See your doctor or healthcare provider right away so you can take steps to treat the condition if you do in fact have it. Symptoms include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent vaginal, bladder and skin infections
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

3. It Might Develop Due to Pregnancy Hormones

According to the American Diabetes Association, there is no universally proven and agreed-upon cause for gestational diabetes. However, there are certain things that point to why a woman without diabetes develops diabetes while pregnant. 

During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones needed for the baby to develop properly, which is a good thing for the baby. But these hormones can cause insulin resistance in the mother. This makes it difficult for the body to use its insulin.

4. More than One Test May Be Needed for Diagnosis

There are a couple of tests used to determine whether a woman has gestational diabetes. The first is called a Glucose Challenge Test. Depending on the results of this first test, a second test called a Glucose Tolerance Test may be necessary.

For the glucose challenge test, you do not need to fast before the appointment. There are two steps for this test:

  • At the beginning of the appointment, you’ll be given about five ounces of a glucose solution to drink. The solution is syrupy and some women may find they do not like the taste.
  • You stay in the office or lab setting for an hour (bring something quiet to do to pass the time) to wait to have your blood tested. After the hour is up, blood is drawn from a vein in your arm. The blood will then be tested to see your blood sugar level.

If your blood sugar is too high (above 140 mg/dL), you might have gestational diabetes. To confirm the diagnosis, you will need to have a different test done. 

The second test will be a glucose tolerance test. This test differs from the glucose challenge test in several ways even if the general idea is the same. For example, the glucose tolerance test takes three hours instead of just one and you must fast before the appointment. Then the process is as follows:

  • A blood sample is taken at the beginning to determine fasting blood sugar.
  • You will drink about eight ounces of the glucose solution.
  • Your blood glucose level will be tested again one, two and three hours after you drink the solution. 

The results of that test will be analyzed. If the glucose level in one of the four samples (fasting, one hour, two hours, three hours) is too high, your doctor will probably have you schedule another test for four weeks later. If the glucose levels are too high in two or more of the samples, then you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

5. Gestational Diabetes is Often Controlled Through Diet and Exercise

The goal of treating gestational diabetes is to get blood glucose close to those of women without gestational diabetes. First, your doctor will help you with a specific meal plan. You will also need to schedule regular physical activity. Sometimes this is enough to lower blood glucose and manage gestational diabetes. Other times, gestational diabetes needs to be treated with insulin. You may also need to do daily blood glucose testing.

You may be able to decrease your chances of developing gestational diabetes by making the same basic lifestyle changes before you get pregnant. Losing weight can lower the risk for type two diabetes in people who are not pregnant, and one of the risk factors for gestational diabetes is being overweight. Eliminating that risk factor before it can become a problem might be helpful.

6. Gestational Diabetes Can Make Babies Large

If your diabetes is not effectively controlled, the high blood sugar will “overfeed” the baby. This causes the baby to become extra-large, a condition called macrosomia. An extra-large baby can complicate delivery, harming both mother and baby. C-sections are more common with large babies.

Macrosomia can cause issues for the baby after birth as well. They are at high risk for childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes as an adult.

7. Gestational Diabetes Increases the Chance of Needing a C-Section

Whether it is because of the baby being large or other complications, patients with gestational diabetes are more likely to require a C-section than those without the condition. C-sections require a longer recovery time than vaginal birth in most cases.

8. You Should be Tested for Diabetes after Pregnancy

After you deliver the baby, you still need to monitor your blood sugar. You should be tested for diabetes six to twelve weeks after the baby is born. After that, you should get tested every one to three years. Half of all women who had gestational diabetes later develop type 2 diabetes. Continuing to eat well and exercise can reduce your risk.

At Green Valley OB/GYN, we want to make sure you and your future baby get the best care possible to promote good health for you both. If you have concerns about pregnancy, whether it be gestational diabetes or something else, call us at (336) 378-1110 to schedule an appointment.