Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, some women develop a condition known as gestational diabetes.  This form of diabetes is similar to type 1 or 2 diabetes in that blood sugar levels are high because the cells in the body are not able to use the glucose efficiently.  Unlike other types of diabetes, however, gestational diabetes only occurs during pregnancy and goes away once the baby is born.  Gestational diabetes is considered a pregnancy complication, and may lead to a high risk pregnancy.  But, with proper management, serious complications of the disease can be avoided.

The cause of gestational diabetes is not fully understood, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, even during a normal, healthy pregnancy, blood sugar levels are higher than average.  Hormones produced by the body prevent insulin from working as effectively as usual.  As the pregnancy goes on, the placenta grows larger and larger, and hormones that impair insulin flood the body.  Sometimes, if blood sugar levels increase dramatically, gestational diabetes is diagnosed. High blood sugar levels that require a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can cause problems for Mom during pregnancy, as well as health risks to the baby.

One of the most well-known complications of gestational diabetes is a large baby.  Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes often weigh more than others and grow much larger than babies of mothers without gestational diabetes.  A large baby may have trouble getting through the birth canal, may get hurt during birth, or may require a cesarean section to be born.

Because of high blood glucose levels during a pregnancy in which gestational diabetes is diagnosed, some women go into early labor and if not, some doctors may suggest inducing labor early due to the size of the baby or the risk of complications that may increase as time goes by.  Babies born early are more likely to have serious learning disorders and respiratory disorders, such as respiratory distress syndrome.  Some babies may have high insulin production in the womb, which could cause hypoglycemia after birth, when sugars are not as high and insulin is using the blood sugar they do get too quickly.  Feeding a newborn right away can help prevent this.

Gestational diabetes can also be life threatening.  The disease can cause high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and eclampsia in the mother, threatening the lives of both mom and baby.  Untreated gestational diabetes can also result in death for the baby either at the time of the birth, right before, or right after.  Gestational diabetes also predicts increased risk of maternal type 2 diabetes later in life.  Though gestational diabetes goes away after birth, it is important to continue maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and treating and monitoring health with a physician.

Treatment of gestational diabetes includes close monitoring of blood sugar throughout the pregnancy.  Doctors suggest maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy by focusing on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Eating healthy not only stabilizes blood sugar, but it also prevents excess weight gain that could contribute to higher blood sugar levels and diabetes later in life.  Regular exercise may also be instituted to manage gestational diabetes.  Medication may be given.

Baby will also be monitored closely throughout the pregnancy to detect any signs of distress and to watch the growth of the baby.  During birth, blood sugar will be monitored to determine whether the baby will need extra glucose supplements following birth.

Gestational diabetes is a complication of pregnancy.  If left untreated it can be very dangerous, even deadly, to both Mom and baby.  If you are predisposed to blood sugar issues and become pregnant, be sure to discuss blood sugar level monitoring with your physician or midwife.