The increase of particular hormones during pregnancy can prevent insulin – a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels – from working properly, resulting in a form of diabetes called gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is temporary and affects about 4% of all pregnant women. But, even though gestational diabetes is temporary, it still poses some risks:
- Both you and your baby have a greater chance of developing type-2 diabetes, which could lead to organ and blood vessel damage if not properly treated.
- Half of all women who have gestational diabetes contract type-2 diabetes within 10-20 years of delivery.
- Babies whose mothers have diabetes are usually much larger than the average baby (a condition called macrosomia) because they receive extra glucose through the placenta that is then stored as fat. This may result in birth complications and the need for a cesarean section.
- Babies born to mothers with diabetes are also more likely to have hypoglycemia, breathing problems, and jaundice at birth, as well as an increased risk for childhood obesity.
Having a family history of diabetes isn’t the only thing that increases your chances of developing gestational diabetes; in fact, there are a number of contributing factors, including age and ethnicity. Here are some components that affect your risk level:
- You’re overweight or obese
- You’re over 30 years of age
- You had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- You have a family history of type-2 diabetes
- You’re Native American, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian, Polynesian, Melanesian Vietnamese or an indigenous Australian or Torres Strait Islander
The first signs of gestational diabetes are often missed because they are some of the most common symptoms of pregnancy. A glucose screening test, given to women who are between 24 and 26 weeks pregnant, is the only way to know for sure. If you think you have gestational diabetes, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Typical symptoms are:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Frequent urination
- Persistent oral thrush
- Blurry vision
- Increased thirst and hunger
- High blood pressure
If you have gestational diabetes, diet and exercise will help, but you will need to speak to a nutritionist about your options. You will also have to monitor your blood sugar levels with blood tests throughout the day, and in some cases, you might need insulin injections. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after birth, but in order to reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, it’s important to continue to eat well and exercise after your pregnancy and have your doctor test your blood sugar at least once every three years.