Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born. It is most often detected in the last half of pregnancy and affects up to 10% of all pregnant women.
It occurs when the placenta around the baby makes hormones that work against the mother's insulin. Women who already have trouble creating or using insulin properly before a pregnancy are at high risk for experiencing gestational diabetes.
Some gestational diabetes risk factors to be aware of include:
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Being overweight
- Being over age 25
- You previously had gestational diabetes
- You previously had a stillbirth
- You had a previous baby weighing more than 9 pounds at birth
Women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. This risk increases to over 60% if a woman is overweight.
All women should be screened for gestational diabetes between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. This involves a one-hour glucose tolerance test in which the expecting mother drinks a very sugary liquid then has her blood sugar tested an hour later. If the one-hour blood sugar level is over 140 mg/dl, a three-hour glucose tolerance test will be done. Based on the blood sugars drawn before drinking the liquid and after one, two and three hours, the doctor can determine if the expecting mother has gestational diabetes.
Undetected or untreated gestational diabetes can result in complications for a mother and her baby.
Complications for a Baby:
- Large baby
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) after delivery
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
Complications for a Mother:
- Pre-term labor
- Difficult delivery due to large baby
- Greater risk for infections - especially vaginal, bladder and kidney
How to Control
Controlling Gestational Diabetes
You can help control your glucose level during pregnancy and possibly avoid gestational diabetes by eating healthy, exercising, retaining a healthy weight, monitoring blood glucose levels and taking insulin if necessary.
Your doctor should check a fasting blood sugar about six weeks after delivery to make sure your blood sugar has returned to normal. The American Diabetes Association recommends women with a history of gestational diabetes have a fasting blood sugar test every three years.
The risk for gestational diabetes rises with subsequent pregnancies. It's safer to have your blood sugar tested in the first 8-12 weeks of pregnancy. If that result is normal you should be tested again at 24-28 weeks.