Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a condition that affects many women during pregnancy. It occurs when the body cannot effectively use insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. While it can be concerning, understanding and managing gestational diabetes is crucial for the health of both mother and baby.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes typically develops during the second or third trimester of pregnancy. It happens when the hormones from the placenta block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. This insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin and may cause glucose to build up in the blood.
Who is at Risk?
Several factors increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. These include being over the age of 25, a family history of diabetes, being overweight, and having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy. Additionally, certain ethnicities, such as African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander, have a higher risk.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Most women with gestational diabetes don’t experience noticeable symptoms, which is why screening during pregnancy is essential. Typically, testing occurs between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation. The test involves drinking a sweet liquid and having blood sugar levels checked after one hour.
Impact on Pregnancy
Unmanaged gestational diabetes can lead to problems for both mother and baby. The baby might grow larger than usual, leading to complications during delivery. There’s also a higher risk of premature birth, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and developing type 2 diabetes later in life for both mother and child.
Management and Treatment
Managing gestational diabetes is critical and involves regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy diet, and staying physically active. The dietary focus should be on eating balanced meals with a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and limiting sugary foods and beverages.
Physical activity is another cornerstone of managing GDM. It helps the body use insulin more efficiently and can keep blood sugar levels in check. Pregnant women should aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking.
In some cases, medication, including insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents, may be necessary to control blood sugar levels.
Typically, gestational diabetes resolves after the baby is born. However, women who have had GDM have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Postpartum screening for diabetes should be performed 6 to 12 weeks after delivery, and women should be encouraged to maintain healthy lifestyle habits to reduce their risk.
Gestational diabetes is a manageable condition, and with the right care, women can have healthy pregnancies and babies. Regular screening, lifestyle modifications, and, if necessary, medication, are key to managing this condition. Remember, every pregnancy is unique, so it’s important to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a management plan that’s right for you.