Gestational Diabetes

The symptoms of gestational diabetes can be detected during your antenatal check-up around weeks 24-28 with a routine glucose screening test (as this is the time the symptoms will usually present themselves). This form of diabetes is a serious complication that occurs only during pregnancy and usually effects around 4 in every 100 pregnant women. Although it will not cause any birth defects, it is known to be detrimental to the well-being of you and your baby, fortunately the condition is treatable.

Gestational Diabetes
Pregnancy and Diabetes

Most women with the symptoms of gestational diabetes are easily able to treat them and go on to deliver a healthy baby. Treatment will usually include healthy eating, daily monitoring of your blood glucose levels, regular exercise and, if necessary, a course of medicated insulin. In addition, your doctor may refer you to other health professionals who specialize in diabetes management, such as an endocrinologist, a registered dietitian or a diabetes educator. Blood sugar levels typically return to normal soon after delivery.
It is not known why pregnancy and diabetes can go hand in hand for some woman with no history of condition at all in the family, but having gestational diabetes means that you will have elevated levels of sugar in your bloodstream. Some of the main complications of this are:

  • Macrosomia – which translates into a ‘fat’ or ‘large for dates’ baby. High levels of glucose in your body will cross the placenta to your baby which will then trigger their pancreas to produce extra insulin. This will result in your baby having more energy than is necessary to grow, therefore high levels of fat storage begin. If a baby becomes too big to fit through the birth canal this can result in head or shoulder injuries or a C-section.
  • Low Blood Sugar – Your baby could also develop hypoglycemia at birth because their own insulin levels are high. Severe low blood sugar could result in seizures, however, their blood sugar can usually be returned to normal with an intravenous glucose solution.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – Babies born to mothers with untreated gestational diabetes can have a higher chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome – Gestational Diabetes babies can also have more breathing difficulties than other babies of the same age. If this is the case then breathing aid would be required until the baby’s lungs could mature.

To be tested for the symptoms of gestational diabetes, your healthcare worker will, around 28 weeks into your pregnancy, get you to drink sugary solution that has 50 grams of glucose in it, a bit like orange soda, but sweeter. After an hour later a blood sample will be taken and if the sugar level in your blood is higher than 95 mg/dl it would be considered too high and another 3 hour glucose test will be performed. You are require not to eat anything for 8-12 hours prior to and during the test. This will then confirm if you have the condition or not. If you are considered to be ‘high-risk’ then this test will be performed much earlier in the pregnancy.

Women who are considered to be at risk of developing gestational diabetes are those who are:

    • Overweight – If you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of higher than 30.
    • Family/Personal History – If you have a close family member with Type 2 Diabetes, you are diabetic yourself, have experienced it in a previous pregnancy, had an unexplained miscarriage or previously delivered a ‘large for dates’ baby.
      Being over 25 – This is the recognized age group for being more at risk.

Race – Statistically, for reasons unknown, Asian, Black, Hispanic and American Indian women tend to have higher rates of gestational diabetes than others.

If the condition is left untreated this could not only pose a threat to your baby, but to you to as there is always a chance of you developing pre-eclampsia, urinary tract infections or future Type 2 Diabetes.

Thankfully though, the symptoms of gestational diabetes are very manageable and treatable, once diagnosed, and you can go on to have a healthy baby as normal. The condition will usually disappear altogether after the birth as well.