Pregnancy can change the body in so many ways than one, which is why prompt and regular prenatal care is highly important for moms-to-be to go through. Gestational diabetes is just one condition that a pregnant woman can get, which occurs when one has higher blood sugar levels than is usual during pregnancy.
Affecting about 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies in the US, gestational diabetes happens when the body cannot make adequate amounts of insulin during pregnancy. Because of this, the cells cannot ingest blood sugar and use it as energy for the body.
When a woman is pregnant, there is an influx of hormones in the body, causing one to gain weight and the body’s cells to utilize insulin less efficiently. This resistance to insulin causes the body to need insulin more.
While insulin resistance can occur during late pregnancy, some women may have it even before pregnancy and are thus more likely to have gestational diabetes in the future.
Are You at Risk?
While the exact causes of gestational diabetes are still unclear, there are several risk factors that may increase one’s chances of acquiring the condition, such as age. Women over the age of 25 are more likely to have it as compared to younger moms.
Race can also be a factor. Some ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, as compared to other races.
Meanwhile, being overweight, having high blood pressure, or having conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or acanthosis nigricans may likely put the mom-to-be at higher risk of gestational diabetes. Being pregnant with multiples has always been considered a high-risk pregnancy, as it also increases one’s likelihood of getting diabetes during pregnancy.
Screening and Diagnosis
To better manage gestational diabetes, your doctor is likely to assess your risk factors as early as possible in your pregnancy, which is why it is important to have your first prenatal checkup as soon as you get a positive pregnancy test result.
If you are at high risk—also if you have a close relative who has diabetes or a history of it—then your health-care provider may have you screened for diabetes during your first antenatal visit, which is right after your pregnancy is confirmed through an ultrasound screening test using clinical ultrasound transducers. For women with average risk of the condition, a screening test should be done later on, specifically between the weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy.
Routine screening tests for gestational diabetes include an initial glucose challenge test and a follow-up glucose-tolerance testing. The former will have you drink a sweet, syrupy solution and wait for one hour before you undergo a blood test to get a measurement of your blood sugar levels. In a glucose challenge test, the normal blood sugar levels fall below 130 to 140 mg/dL, although the values may vary in every clinic or lab.
Meanwhile, in a follow-up glucose-tolerance testing, you will need to fast overnight before having your blood sugar measured. This time, you will be drinking another syrupy solution with a higher glucose concentration and will undergo blood tests every hour for three hours. If the results are higher than normal, that is when you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Changing Your Lifestyle
If you are at high risk of gestational diabetes, you can help lower that risk by making changes in your lifestyle. Your diet is one of the major factors that you need to look out for. You will have to limit your intake of sweets, and you better keep track of how much carbohydrate-rich foods you are going to eat.
Including fiber in your diet may also help reduce your risk by 26 percent. You can get your fiber fix from fruits, veggies, whole-grain breads and crackers, and cereals. There are also fiber supplements that you can take to help you keep up with your fiber-intake needs.
Another intervention that can keep your glucose in healthy levels is having an active lifestyle. Include getting regular exercise in your routine. You don’t have to go to the gym and start lifting.
Even simple activities such as walking and swimming can bring positive effects on your body. Just remember to consult your doctor about how much exercise you can and can’t do during pregnancy.
Gestational Diabetes after Delivery
Most women get diabetes only during pregnancy, which means the condition goes away right after they give birth. However, this may not be the case for some. If it does not go away after delivery, the mother is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which can also come in much later after the baby is born. To prevent or delay the condition, it is important for women to still continue to eat a healthy diet and exercise after pregnancy.
While gestational diabetes can be managed accordingly, women are still encouraged to maintain healthy practices even before pregnancy to prevent such complications in the future.