Diabetes occurs when a person’s blood sugar levels are too high. The amount of sugar in your blood is usually controlled by the hormone, insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. Gestational Diabetes is when you have abnormally raised blood sugar levels during the second part of your pregnancy. It’s estimated that Gestational Diabetes effects around 5% of pregnant women in Australia.
To keep fit, healthy and happy when pregnant, make sure you regularly visit your health care provider for check-ups. This will also help detect any potential health issues early, so that you can take steps to manage, and address them.
What is gestational diabetes?
During pregnancy, your body needs to produce higher amounts of insulin to keep blood glucose levels within the normal range. If your body fails to produce more insulin to meet your needs, gestational diabetes develops.
When Gestational Diabetes is detected early, and well controlled, the risks to baby and mother are greatly reduced. The good news is that after the baby is born, your blood glucose levels should return to normal.
Who’s most at risk?
Gestational diabetes is usually detected around weeks 24 to 28 as part of a two-step procedure - a glucose challenge screening test, followed by a diagnostic test called the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test.
Certain women are at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. These include women who:
- Are over 30 years of age;
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes;
- Are overweight or obese;
- Are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent;
- Are of particular cultural groups, such as Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese or Middle Eastern;
- Take antipsychotic or steroid medications;
- Have previously had gestational diabetes;
- Have had a baby weighing more than 5kg.
What are the effects?
Gestational diabetes affects each woman with the condition slightly differently, and there are various levels of severity. Symptoms can usually be controlled, and most women with gestational diabetes will have safe pregnancies and healthy babies. In many cases, the extra special care you give yourself following diagnosis may result in a healthier pregnancy than had it have been a ‘normal’ pregnancy.
Pregnancy in women with diabetes usually results in a normal delivery with no effects on the mother’s or the child’s long-term health. However, poorly controlled blood glucose levels can have long-term effects for both mum and baby, as well as complications during delivery. Having too much sugar in your blood can potentially increase the birth weight of your baby. A big baby may make labour and birth more difficult, therefore the chance of requiring a caesarean section is increased.
There’s also the risk of potential problems that can arise following birth, such as hypoglycaemia and jaundice. Too much blood sugar during pregnancy can cause low blood sugar in babies, which may need to be monitored in the neonatal unit.
Babies born to mothers with unmanaged gestational diabetes are also more prone to obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Symptoms of gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes often doesn’t have any symptoms, but you can experience:
- Excessive thirst;
- Frequent urination;
- Blurred vision.
The only real way to tell for sure is to be tested. If possible, seek health care early (once you suspect you are pregnant or even when you are trying to conceive) so your doctor can evaluate your risk of gestational diabetes as part of your overall childbearing wellness plan. Most healthcare practitioners routinely recommend a glucose screening test between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you test positive, you’ll need to take the glucose tolerance test - a longer, more definitive test that confirms whether or not you have gestational diabetes.
If you are considered high risk or a routine urine test shows a lot of glucose in your urine, you may need to be screened earlier than 24 weeks.
How it can be treated
Health professionals, such as your doctor, dietician, or health care nurse can support you in managing your gestational diabetes. This includes help with:
Eating a varied diet that is nutritionally geared for pregnancy, can help you to manage your blood glucose level. This will include foods rich in calcium, iron and folic acid. Your doctor might recommend you try to balance calories and carbohydrates evenly, and consume fewer carbohydrates than you would ordinarily.
A good breakfast is particularly important when suffering from gestational diabetes, as your blood glucose levels are most likely to be irregular in the morning.
Physical activity including walking, jogging, swimming, and low-impact aerobic exercise will not only keep you fit, but will help to prepare you for the birth of your baby and to control your blood glucose levels. Pregnant women should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week.
Monitoring your blood glucose levels
By monitoring your blood glucose levels you are able to see if the lifestyle changes you are making are having an impact on your gestational diabetes. If your blood glucose level fails to change, further treatment may be required. Your doctor or diabetes educator will tell you what blood glucose levels to aim for, and advise if any further action or treatment needs to be taken.
Insulin injections may be required to help your glucose level stay in normal range, and these are safe to take during pregnancy. Approximately one quarter of women with gestational diabetes require insulin injections.
Familiarise yourself with safe blood glucose levels, insulin injection technique, insulin storage and any signs or symptoms you should be looking for.
Gestational diabetes is not a health problem to fear, but there are steps you should take to avoid developing it. This includes:
- Eating healthy foods;
- Exercising regularly;
- Keeping weight gain under control;
- Entering pregnancy as healthy as possible.
CBHS recognises the significant impact illnesses can have on the quality of life for its members. With this in mind, there are a number of chronic disease management plans (CDMPs) in place, which aim to promote education and wellbeing among members most at risk.
All information in this article is intended for general information purposes only. Information should not be considered medical advice and is in no way intended to replace a consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.