The term gestational diabetes refers to diabetes during pregnancy. The condition can pose great harm to both fetus and mother, so identification and treatment is important. Unfortunately, symptoms can be subtle, making the condition difficult to diagnose. Since gestational diabetes can affect the health of both mother and fetus, it’s important to discuss the risks with your health care provider, and follow advice for testing, diet, and exercise to prevent or control the condition.
Insulin helps control blood sugar levels in the body. All cases of diabetes involve the body not making enough insulin, or not being able to use insulin. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), hormones that appear during pregnancy can interfere with insulin function. The result is gestational diabetes. No one is sure why some women become diabetic during pregnancy,while many others do not.
Unlike other forms of diabetes, a case of gestational diabetes will usually subside when the baby is born. Women who experience gestational diabetes may have a higher risk for other kinds of diabetes later in life. Be sure to inform your health care providers if you have ever had gestational diabetes, so they can monitor your blood sugar levels.
Many women develop gestational diabetes but show no symptoms. In some cases, frequent urination or constant thirst can be warning signs. Even without symptoms, the condition can harm both mother and fetus, so your health care provider may recommend routine blood sugar level tests during pregnancy.
Effects on the Fetus
Gestational diabetes can harm a fetus in several ways. High blood sugar levels have been linked to a greater risk for stillbirth or premature labor. If a fetus gets too much sugar during development, it may become too large for the birth canal, mandating a cesarean delivery. Some babies of diabetic mothers may experience respiratory distress syndrome, a breathing disorder. Other potential problems include jaundice and low blood sugar levels after birth.
Effects on the Mother
Gestational diabetes may cause preclampsia, a condition that raises blood pressure and can lead to liver or kidney damage. Urinary tract infections have also been linked to diabetes during pregnancy.
Mothers-to-be can manage blood sugar levels with diet and exercise. Be sure to consult with a health care provider on proper nutrition and safe exercise during pregnancy. Regular testing of blood sugar levels throughout pregnancy will determine if medication is also needed. According to ACOG, about 15 percent of women who have gestational diabetes need medication to lower their blood glucose level.