What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Awareness month, designed to draw attention to the impact of diabetes on so many lives. Each November, there is a new focus, and this year, it’s on improving health after gestational diabetes.

What is gestational diabetes? It’s when placental hormones lessen your body’s ability to process glucose. This can lead to high blood sugar, just like with other kinds of diabetes, except it’s connected to the pregnancy itself. Without appropriate management, gestational diabetes can lead to preeclampsia or to excessive growth of your baby (which can make the risk of birth injuries much higher and increase the chance of an emergency c-section). It can also have an impact beyond pregnancy. Unfortunately, up to half of women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes end up with a future diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes also puts your child at a greater risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes has many possible root causes. Genetics, extra weight, and even hormone imbalances during pregnancy can all cause your body to not be able to tolerate or use as much insulin as it should. Most people would never even notice that they have gestational diabetes: if there are symptoms, they are usually very mild, and not obviously different than normal pregnancy symptoms. These include being thirstier than normal, having to pee more, excessive hunger, fatigue, or yeast infections.

There are two types of tests that can diagnose gestational diabetes. The first one is called the Glucose Challenge.  In this test, you are given a sugary drink, and then one hour later your blood sugar is tested. The second test is called oral glucose tolerance test, and this test is only performed if the results of the first test show high glucose levels. With this test, you must fast for 8–16 hours. Then, the doctor will check your blood sugar before giving you a dose of glucose (usually that same sugary drink mix, only a lot more of it this time). Then the doctor will test your blood sugar four times over the next several hours to tell whether your blood sugar goes back down at a healthy rate. If it does not, you probably will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Sometimes, insulin is needed during your pregnancy to help keep your sugar levels low. Other times, you can manage it with diet and exercise. You can also help prevent gestational diabetes. If you plan to become pregnant and are at an unhealthy weight, talking with your doctor about healthy and safe ways to lose some of that extra weight can make a huge difference. You also want to make sure to eat well and get plenty of exercise during your pregnancy. And if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, make sure that you keep up your healthy eating and exercise even after you give birth, because those healthy habits can help ensure that you don’t develop type 2 diabetes later on.

I am a 25 year old mother and wife who is devoted to my family and working hard. I am also a major advocate for down syndrome awareness.