Gestational Diabetes: Just the Facts

Pregnant women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood sugar (glucose) levels during pregnancy are said to have gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes affects about four percent of all pregnant women, usually during the late stages of pregnancy.

How it Happens
Hormones from the placenta, which help the baby develop, can block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance, and it makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin. She may require more insulin, as a result. When a mother is unable to make and use all the insulin she needs for pregnancy, gestational diabetes begins to set in. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy. Glucose builds up in the blood to too high levels. This is called hyperglycemia.

While the effects of diabetes during pregnancy don’t cause an immediate threat to your health, leaving it untreated puts a mother at risk for the following:

  • a condition called pre-eclampsia, which causes high blood pressure
  • premature labor
  • having too much amniotic fluid
  • an increase in chance of developing gestational diabetes during a future pregnancy or type 2 diabetes

What does it mean for the baby? High-blood sugar can cause a baby to grow larger, making for a more difficult delivery. A newborn may also have low-blood sugar and develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

Gestational diabetes doesn’t usually cause any noticeable symptoms. However, women may experience the following:

  • Overwhelming thirst that does not go away.
  • Frequent and/or uncontrollable urination
  • Fatigue

Note: Some of these symptoms are also just common to pregnancy. 

Once discovered, gestational diabetes should be dealt with immediately. Doctors will suggest special, healthy meals and exercise for the mother. Treatment may also include daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections.

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