Caring for your health and wellness: Pregnancy and gestational diabetes

Over one-half of women with gestational diabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes later in life, but steps can be taken to reduce your risk.

Caring for your health and wellness: Pregnancy and gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes can be dangerous for both the mother and baby. Getting diagnosed and treated can help prevent complications. 


Over one-half of women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes later in life. For many women, this risk can be reduced with regular exercise and weight management.


Gestational diabetes happens about 20 to 28 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. It usually goes away after the pregnancy is over. Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes happens when the body does not use sugars correctly. Gestational diabetes happens when the mother has high blood glucose levels during pregnancy.


A mother’s glucose levels can affect the fetus’ glucose levels. Too much glucose in the baby’s blood can cause problems with the pregnancy. The baby’s pancreas also makes insulin. The insulin changes glucose to fat. If the mother has high glucose levels, the baby will be born with more body fat than normal.


Risk factors

Health care providers may not be able to predict who will get gestational diabetes and who will not. Although, they do know factors that can increase a woman’s chances of getting it. These are known as risk factors.


Some risk factors you can control, others you cannot. Women without any risk factors can also have gestational diabetes.


Pregnant women who are older than 25 years old are more likely to have gestational diabetes. Also, women who are overweight are at an increased risk of having gestational diabetes.


Once a woman has had gestational diabetes, she is more likely to have it again in future pregnancies. Women who previously had a baby weighing more than 8 pounds and 13 ounces are at an increased risk for gestational diabetes.


A woman may develop gestational diabetes without having any risk factors. If you are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant you may be tested for gestational diabetes. Your health care provider may also recommend that you be tested earlier if you are at high risk of developing gestational diabetes.


Effects during and after pregnancy

There are many consequences of having gestational diabetes — both during and after pregnancy. Some of these effects may be avoided if you follow your health care provider’s treatment plan. 


High blood glucose levels increase the chances of having a large baby. This increases the likelihood of delivering the baby by C-section.


Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia are more common in women with gestational diabetes. Both can cause life-threatening complications for the mother and baby during the pregnancy and delivery.


If your blood sugar levels are not well controlled during pregnancy, the baby may have low blood sugar and breathing problems shortly after birth. Severely low blood sugar may cause seizures.


Women who have had gestational diabetes should be screened regularly for diabetes. You should be screened 6 to 12 weeks after delivery and at regular checkups. 


Women who have had gestational diabetes and had a normal glucose level after delivery should have their glucose level checked at least once every 3 years.


Managing gestational diabetes

To manage your gestational diabetes, you will need to:

• Follow a special diet.

• Exercise.

• Check your blood glucose levels.


Your health care provider may refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian. They will help you learn what foods to eat. Following your diet carefully is important.


Regular exercise will help keep your blood sugar levels normal. 


You may be asked to check your blood sugar every day. Your health care provider may refer you to a diabetes educator to teach you how to check your blood sugar. You should record all blood sugar levels in the log provided to you.


If diet and exercise do not control your blood sugar, then oral medications or insulin may be needed throughout your pregnancy. Most women — 80% to 90% — with gestational diabetes can treat it successfully with diet and exercise.


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