What is Gestational Diabetes? And What Are Its Effects?

Gestational diabetes is the rise of a woman’s blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This type of diabetes usually develops between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy and it is not an indicator that the person was already diabetic before pregnancy.

Though in most cases, blood sugar levels returns to normal soon after delivery, gestational diabetes may increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

A scientific study of 675,455 women with up to 28 years of follow-up showed that women with who developed gestational diabetes are more than seven times likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The chances of developing gestational diabetes are very low. For example, in the United States, 7 out of every 100 pregnant women (7 percent) develop gestational diabetes.

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

Most of the time, the symptoms of gestational diabetes are not noticeable. Some of the noticeable symptoms include:

  • frequent urination
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • excessive thirst
  • yeast infection

If you are pregnant and have any of those symptoms, visit your health care provider for gestational diabetes screening. The test is usually performed at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

There are no common symptoms of gestational diabetes. Most women don’t even know they have it until they get tested.

If the glucose screening test comes back positive, you usually get another test called a glucose tolerance test to see for sure if you have gestational diabetes.

What causes Gestational Diabetes?

Medical experts don’t yet really know what causes gestational diabetes but excessive weight before pregnancy plays a role in causing it.

Another contributing factor, is the change hormone levels during pregnancy, making it harder for the body to process blood sugar efficiently, leading to blood sugar rise.

During pregnancy, placenta (a structure that transports nutrients and oxygen to the baby) also makes hormones such as estrogen, cortisol, and human placental lactogen. These hormones have the ability to block insulin. When insulin is blocked, glucose can’t be converted to glycogen for storage in the body cells. The glucose then remains in the blood, making the blood sugar levels go up.

Who is at risk of developing gestational diabetes?

Some women have a greater risk of gestational diabetes than others. Some of the factors that increases the risk of gestational diabetes are:

  • over 25 years of age
  • obesity
  • lack of physical activity
  • previous history of gestational diabetes or any other type of diabetes
  • polycystic ovary syndrome which is a hormone imbalance that affect a women’s reproductive and overall health.
  • family history of diabetes
  • race. Black, Hispanic, Indian American and Asian American women have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • expecting multiple babies
  • previous history of unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth

Complications of gestational diabetes on the baby

Most women with gestational diabetes have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. However, the babies may be at risk of:

  • being born with excessive birth weight. Excessive blood sugar levels in expecting mothers can cause their babies to come out large. This increases the likelihood of the baby becoming wedged in the birth canal. A C-section birth is often then needed.
  • being born prematurely. Excessive blood sugar levels may increase women’s risk of going into early labor and delivery before the due date.
  • developing low blood sugar (known as hypoglycemia). In some cases, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have low blood sugar shortly after birth. This may cause seizures in the baby, which are usually treated by prompt feedings and or an intravenous glucose solution to return the baby’s blood sugar level to normal.
  • developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Shoulder dystocia or other birth injuries (also known as birth trauma). Shoulder dystocia is when a baby’s shoulders get stuck inside the mother’s pelvis during labor. This often happens to babies who are very large. This can cause serious injury to both the mother and the baby. Shoulder dystocia can cause postpartum hemorrhage (heavy bleeding) to the mother. The baby can get collarbone fractures, among other injuries to the upper body.
  • being stillborn or dying shortly after birth

Complications of gestational diabetes towards the expecting mother

Pregnant women with gestational diabetes have a high risk of:

  • developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure and other symptoms that threaten the lives of both mother and baby.
  • having C-section delivery due to the weight of the baby.
  • developing future type 2 diabetes.

Prevention of gestational diabetes

There is no guaranteed way of preventing gestational diabetes since medical experts don’t exactly know what causes it. However, there are some methods of reducing the chances of developing it.

  • Eat healthy foods, such as foods high in fiber and low in fat. Add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet.
  • Exercise more often before and during pregnancy.
  • Losing extra weight before getting pregnant. Gaining some weight during pregnancy is normal and healthy as long as you are not gaining too much weight too quickly.

Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.

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