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What Is Gestational Diabetes ?

Gestational diabetes, like regular diabetes, occurs when there is an unusually large amount of sugar in the blood because the body is unable to produce enough insulin to deal with it. This often occurs during pregnancy because the body has to produce extra insulin to meet the baby’s needs, and because changes in hormone levels can reduce effective insulin production.

Up to 5% of pregnant women in the US develop this condition, making it one of the most common health problems in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is usually discovered when a regular urine test indicates the presence of sugar. At this point your doctor or midwife should recommend a random blood glucose test, or a glucose tolerance test to more accurately measure blood sugar levels.

Some women experience extreme thirst or fatigue that signal gestational diabetes, but many don’t have any noticeable symptoms at all.

Controlling Gestational Diabetes

Diabetes during pregnancy needs to be controlled because if an excessive amount of sugar crosses the placenta to the baby it may grow too large. This can cause problems with delivery, an increased risk of surgical delivery, and an increased risk of children being obese or developing diabetes later in life.

If gestational diabetes is caught early, and blood sugar levels are not too high, it may be possible to control it with changes to diet and lifestyle. Women with gestational diabetes will be advised to cut down on sugary foods and caffeinated drinks, as well as switching from large meals to regular smaller snacks. Exercise can also help to control gestational diabetes, as it reduces blood sugar levels. However, starting a new form of strenuous exercise is not recommended during pregnancy, so talk to your midwife about possible exercise options.

When gestational diabetes is diagnosed late in pregnancy, or it proves impossible to control blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, insulin shots may be prescribed. In this case women will be regularly monitored to determine their insulin requirement and to ensure that their blood sugar is staying within healthy boundaries.

Women At Increased Risk of Gestational Diabetes

There are a number of factors that can place a woman at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. These include:

  • Having gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • Having previously given birth to a very large baby
  • Being obese with a BMI of over thirty
  • Being over thirty five years of age
  • Having a close relative with insulin dependent diabetes
  • Being Asian Indian, African Caribbean, or Middle Eastern

Is Gestational Diabetes Permanent?

For the majority of women, blood sugar levels will return to normal shortly after the baby is born. They will be offered a glucose tolerance test when their baby is around three months old to make sure this is the case. The women that are most likely to remain diabetic after the baby is born are those that were obese before and throughout their pregnancy.

Whether or not their blood sugar levels return to normal after the birth, women that have gestational diabetes have a greater risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

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