Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that typically develops between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. The condition, like other forms of diabetes, involves high blood sugar levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s estimated to occur in 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States.
Often times, gestational diabetes is a temporary disorder that occurs around the second trimester of pregnancy and disappears after a woman gives birth. If you develop gestational diabetes while you’re pregnant, it doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before your pregnancy or will have it afterward. But gestational diabetes does raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Symptoms Gestational Diabetes
It’s rare for gestational diabetes to cause symptoms. Women with gestational diabetes usually have no symptoms or mild, non-life-threatening symptoms, according to the NIH. These symptoms are mostly related to abnormal blood sugar levels, and can include fatigue, excessive thirst and increased urination.
Causes Gestational Diabetes
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, but hormones likely play a role. During pregnancy, changes happen in the mother’s body to make sugar more available to the fetus.
These hormones affect your placenta and help sustain your pregnancy. Over time, the amount of these hormones in your body increases. They may start to make your body resistant to insulin. Insulin helps move glucose out of your blood into your cells, where it’s used for energy. The hormone that regulates your blood sugar. If blood sugar levels rise to an abnormally high level, this is considered gestational diabetes.
Some women may have prediabetes before they become pregnant (for example, because they are overweight or obese, which is a risk factor for the condition), and pregnancy exacerbates the condition, can also lead to gestational diabetes. Other women may have undiagnosed diabetes before they become pregnant, and they are diagnosed in pregnancy. Changes in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy may further disrupt the body’s balance of glucose and insulin.
What are the Risk factors of Gestational Diabetes?
Risk factors for gestational diabetes including:
- Those who are over the age of 25
- Those who may have high blood pressure
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Gain a larger than normal amount of weight while you’re pregnant
- Are expecting multiple babies
- Have previously given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Have had gestational diabetes in the past
- Being overweight or obese before you became pregnant
- Being prediabetic
- Previously giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Having a family member with type 2 diabetes
- Having gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) encourages doctors to routinely screen pregnant women for signs of gestational diabetes.
Tests for gestational diabetes are usually done around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, according to the NIH.
Women may first undergo a glucose screening test, in which they drink a sugar solution, and their blood sugar level is tested one hour later. If a woman’s blood sugar level is higher than normal, they may need to undergo a second test, called a glucose tolerance test, according to the NIH.
To prepare for the glucose tolerance test, the mother will need to fast overnight before her doctor’s visit. Her blood is taken before the test, and again in 60-minute intervals over two to three hours after she drinks a high-glucose solution in order to measure how blood glucose and insulin level changes over time.
If a woman is diagnosed with gestational diabetes, glucose tolerance tests are usually conducted again at around six to 12 weeks after the woman gives births, and then every three years in order to identify any lingering glucose intolerance, according to the NIH.
Are there different types of gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is divided into two classes:
Class A1 is used to describe gestational diabetes that can be controlled through diet alone. People with class A2 gestational diabetes will need insulin or oral medications to control their condition.
Gestational diabetes is usually temporary, but it increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Treatment Gestational Diabetes
The first step in managing gestational diabetes is to have the patient visit a dietician to see if her diet can be modified to reduce blood sugar levels, and also regular physical activity can also help control blood sugar levels.
Prevention Gestational Diabetes
It’s not possible to prevent gestational diabetes entirely. However, adopting healthy habits can reduce your chances of developing the condition.
Women who are planning to become pregnant can reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes by losing excess weight and increasing physical activity levels before they become pregnant, the NIH says.
Once a woman becomes pregnant, she should not try to lose weight, since gaining some weight is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. However, gaining too much weight in pregnancy also increases a woman’s risk for gestational diabetes. That’s why women should speak with their doctor about how much weight to gain in pregnancy, the NIH says.
Women who’ve already had gestational diabetes in pregnancy can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by eating a healthy diet (with foods high in fiber and low in fat and calories), and staying physically active, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What diet should I eat if I have Gestational Diabetes?
A balanced diet is key to properly managing gestational diabetes. In particular, women with gestational diabetes should pay special attention to their carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake.
Carbohydrates should account for only 40 to 50 percent of your calories each day. Aim to get 20 to 25 percent of your calories from protein and 25 to 35 percent of your calories from fat.
Your doctor will help you determine exactly how many carbohydrates you should eat each day. They may also recommend that you see a registered dietician to help with meal plans.
Healthy carbohydrate choices include:
- Whole grains
- Brown rice
- Beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes
- Starchy vegetables
Pregnant women should eat at least 60g of protein each day. Good sources of protein include lean meats and poultry, fish, and tofu.
Healthy fats to incorporate into your diet include unsalted nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado.
What about fruit?
You can still eat fruit if you have diabetes. You’ll just need to keep track of how much you’re eating.
What foods should you avoid if I have Gestational Diabetes?
You will want to avoid highly processed foods, such as white bread, and, in general, anything that has a lot sugar. For example, you’ll want to be sure to avoid the following:
1. Fast food
2. Alcoholic beverages
3. Baked goods, such as muffins, donuts, or cakes
3. Fried food
4. Sugary drinks, such as soda, juice, and sweetened beverages
6. Very starchy foods, such as white potatoes and white rice.
If you’re unsure, ask your doctor about foods you typically eat. They can help you identify what to avoid.
Additional resources about Gestational Diabetes Finding: