What is gestational diabetes (GDM)?
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It is characterized by high blood sugar levels that develop or are first recognized during pregnancy. While it can be a cause for concern, understanding the condition and taking appropriate steps can help manage and mitigate its effects.
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy. These hormones can interfere with the body’s ability to effectively use insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. It is important to note that gestational diabetes is not the same as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, which are chronic conditions that occur outside of pregnancy.
Who is at risk of getting gestational diabetes?
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. These include being:
- Overweight or obese before pregnancy
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Older than 25 years of age
- Had previous history of GDM
- Current obstetric problems such as hypertension in pregnancy
- History of big baby (weighs >4kg, still birth or birth deformities)
Symptoms and diagnosis of gestational diabetes
Unlike other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes often does not present with noticeable symptoms. However, some women may experience increased thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue. These symptoms can be easily dismissed as common pregnancy discomforts, which is why routine screening for gestational diabetes is so important.
The diagnosis of gestational diabetes is usually made through a glucose challenge test, where the expectant mother drinks a sweetened liquid and has her blood sugar levels tested two hours later. If the results of the glucose challenge test are elevated, a more comprehensive glucose tolerance test may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis.
Effects of gestational diabetes on the mother and baby
Untreated or poorly managed gestational diabetes can have significant consequences for both the mother and the baby. The mother is at an increased risk of developing preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys. It can also lead to an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
For the baby, gestational diabetes can result in excessive growth, known as macrosomia, which can lead to complications during delivery. These complications may include shoulder dystocia, where the baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone, and an increased risk of requiring a cesarean section. Additionally, babies born to mothers with uncontrolled gestational diabetes may have low blood sugar levels after birth and a higher risk of developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Managing gestational diabetes through diet and exercise
The cornerstone of managing gestational diabetes is adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise. A registered dietitian can provide guidance on the appropriate types and amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to consume. It is important to focus on consuming whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, while limiting processed foods and sugary beverages.
Regular physical activity is also crucial in managing gestational diabetes. Engaging in moderate-intensity exercises, such as walking or swimming, for at least 30 minutes most days of the week can help regulate blood sugar levels.
Monitoring blood sugar levels during pregnancy
Once diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it is crucial to monitor your blood sugar levels regularly. This will help you and your healthcare provider determine if your current treatment plan is effective or if any adjustments are needed.
Monitoring your blood sugar levels involves testing your blood using a glucose meter. Your healthcare provider will recommend a target range for your blood sugar levels, which is typically lower than the range for non-pregnant individuals with diabetes. It is important to keep a record of your blood sugar readings and share them with your healthcare provider during prenatal visits.
Managing gestational diabetes requires a proactive approach to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a positive outcome for both mother and baby. By understanding the condition, monitoring blood sugar levels, following a healthy diet and exercise plan, and seeking support and resources, women with gestational diabetes can navigate this journey with confidence.