Pregnancy complications, although not normal, are bound to occur because of the immense pressure on your organs, body and mind. Gestational diabetes is one such complication that occurs somewhere in the middle of your pregnancy, and goes away after your baby is born. Let’s take a look at what gestational diabetes is and how it affects you and your baby.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a variation of normal diabetes, but it develops or is diagnosed during pregnancy. Diabetes is when you have too much glucose in the blood either because your pancreas is not producing enough insulin to release the glucose from the blood or something is stopping the insulin from being able to do so. Gestational diabetes means that you develop diabetes during your pregnancy due to the stresses of gestation (pregnancy).
Gestational diabetes is called so because you develop it only when you are pregnant – somewhere in the pregnancy second trimester or pregnancy third trimester – and if you have been undergoing some treatment after it was diagnosed it will go away on its own after your baby is born. About 18% of all women will develop gestational diabetes. This is not considered a very serious pregnancy complication as it can easily be brought under control.
Causes of Gestational Diabetes
Researchers admit that they do not know for sure why gestational diabetes occurs. But they think it may be due to the unbelievable amount of stress on the organs. You must remember that pregnancy is actually a very exhausting time for your body and it is working constantly, even when you are sleeping. So complications do arise when your body is unable to keep up with the millions of processes going on during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is one of those pregnancy complications.
Another reason for gestational diabetes may be pregnancy hormones. The placenta produces a very high level of hormones throughout your pregnancy to help your body adapt to the changes, and to help your baby grow. However, the pregnancy hormones may be inhibiting your body’s ability to produce insulin and also preventing the insulin from effectively doing its job. Insulin is responsible for regulating the sugar in your blood and releasing it into your cells to give them energy. And during pregnancy, you require more insulin than ever because there is almost 50% more blood in your body than when you were not pregnant. So when the pregnancy hormones prevent normal insulin production and do not let the existing insulin take action, you develop gestational diabetes. This is called insulin resistance. When there is not enough insulin, there is a glucose (sugar) build up in the blood and you develop gestational diabetes.
Pregnancy Complications of Gestational Diabetes
Before you worry yourself into a tizzy, rest assured that a majority of women who have gestational diabetes give birth to absolutely healthy babies and go on to have no health problems themselves. But there is always a small window for something going wrong when you have pregnancy complications. Both you and your baby may experience complications from gestational diabetes.
- When you have gestational diabetes, the extra glucose from your blood is shared by your baby. In order to tackle the extra glucose in its blood, the baby’s body starts to produce insulin. The insulin releases the glucose from the baby’s blood and goes to all the other cells to be used as energy. But your baby does not need all this excess energy, so it gets stored as fat. This condition is known as macrosomia and results in a huge or fat baby.
- Another pregnancy complication of gestational diabetes related macrosomia will actually show up at the time of delivery. Because of of its large size, the baby’s shoulder may get stuck behind your pubic bone while passing through the birth canal. This situation is known as shoulder dystocia and is quite dangerous as your baby may not be able to breathe at this point.
- Because of its large size the baby may have to be delivered by cesarean surgery. C-section surgeries have been known to cause pregnancy complications if subsequent pregnancies.
- If a baby with macrosomia is delivered vaginally, there is a possibility of the vagina getting injured.
- A baby with macrosomia is likely to be overweight as a child and as a young adult.
- Your baby is likely to have hypoglycemia for the first few days after birth if you had gestational diabetes. This is because the baby’s body is still producing extra insulin in response to the high blood glucose levels in the womb. It should stabilize in some days though.
- Stillbirth is a scary pregnancy complication of gestational diabetes.
- A baby born of a mother who had gestational diabetes is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes as an adult.
- If you have gestational diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia – a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy, which can lead to conditions that are fatal to both mother and child.
- Gestational diabetes can lead to breathing problems in your baby.
- Although gestational diabetes disappears after you have given birth, there is a strong likelihood that you will go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
- If you plan on having more children, you are more likely to develop gestational diabetes in future pregnancies.
- Placental abruption may occur as a result of gestational diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes is a risk factor for premature birth, which leads to its own set of problems like respiratory disorders and neurological impairment.
Risk Factors of Gestational Diabetes
Although the reasons for the prevalence of gestational diabetes is unknown, the factors that put women at high risk for the condition have been identified as follows.
- If you are genetically pre-disposed to diabetes, there is a likelihood that you will develop gestational diabetes.
- You are at greater risk for gestational diabetes if you are above 35 years of age during pregnancy.
- Were any of your earlier babies born with birth defects? If yes, your risk for gestational diabetes increases in your current and subsequent pregnancies.
- High birth weight babies also increase your risk for gestational diabetes in the pregnancies to follow.
- Having high blood pressure means that your chances of developing gestational diabetes are higher.
- Women who are overweight or obese before pregnancy will most likely develop gestational diabetes.
- There is a condition called polyhydramnios which is characterized by having too much amniotic fluid. Having polyhydramnios has been connected to higher incidence of gestational diabetes.
- If you suffered from an inexplicable miscarriage in a prior pregnancy, you may be at higher risk for gestational diabetes.
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
The symptoms for gestational diabetes range from mild to non-existent. Some women will not even realize they have gestational diabetes till a regular prenatal checkup tells them otherwise. A few women do not feel any different than when they did not have gestational diabetes. This is not unusual; there are so many other pregnancy symptoms and pregnancy complications to deal with that it can be tough identifying which symptom is associated with which complication.
The symptoms of gestational diabetes are very like the symptoms of normal diabetes. If you experience a combination of the following you may just have gestational diabetes.
- You may feel more fatigued during pregnancy if you have gestational diabetes because the energy-giving glucose is trapped in the blood. But fatigue is normal during pregnancy anyway so do not depend on this symptom alone. You may, however, feel strongly that your tiredness is not normal. Your should listen to your instincts at a time like this and go see your doctor.
- Blurry vision is another symptom of gestational diabetes.
- You may urinate more often during pregnancy (not that you would be able to tell the difference) if you have gestational diabetes.
- Feeling thirsty constantly, even if you’ve just had a drink of water, is a sign of gestational diabetes.
- Women who have gestational diabetes are more prone to recurring infections of the vagina or bladder.
- Some women will have an increase in appetite but will lose weight. This could be an indication of gestational diabetes.
- Vomiting and nausea are other signs of gestational diabetes.
Treatment for Gestational Diabetes
The treatment for gestational diabetes must begin as soon as possible to prevent complications from setting in. Gestational diabetes may be treated by medication in combination with a change in food and exercise. Only 20% of women who have gestational diabetes will need medication though, the remaining 80% will be able to manage their gestational diabetes with simple variations in their food habits and level of physical activity.
- Food plays a very important role in any pregnancy. Eating right can prevent and even cure several pregnancy complications. Gestational diabetes is one such complication which can be effectively tackled by a change in diet. You must see a nutritionist who will advise you of what kinds of food you need to eat and in what proportion, based on your individual needs.
- If you are physically active, it will aid in releasing the glucose from your blood as your body will be forced to extract the energy directly from the blood when it is needed. If you make exercise a part of your life when you are pregnant, you can effectively defeat and even prevent gestational diabetes. There are several safe pregnancy exercises that you can undertake throughout the nine months without harming yourself or your baby.
- You will also need to learn how to monitor the level of glucose in your blood. This normally requires a quick, painless prick on a finger by a small machine that will immediately give you the results. You may need to check your blood glucose after or before every meal, when you wake up in the morning, or before you go to bed at night, depending on the severity of your gestational diabetes and the treatment method you are undergoing. Your doctor will tell you what your individual reading needs to be and how often you have to take the test.
- If diet and exercise do not help, your doctor will recommend that you take insulin shots or will prescribe medication.
Prevention of Gestational Diabetes
Since the reasons for gestational diabetes are not very clear to doctors or researchers, preventing the condition from occurring is a little difficult. But there is a connection between living a healthy lifestyle and a lower incidence of health problems. And gestational diabetes seems to follow this rule too.
One of the main things you can do to prevent gestational diabetes is lose weight before you get pregnant, never during pregnancy. Women who are overweight seem to be at a higher risk of gestational diabetes so you will be reducing your chances if you shed those extra kilos. However, approach your weight loss in a healthy way. No crash diets or crazy exercise plans as this can raise your risk for other health problems. See a nutritionist about formulating a balanced meal plan and talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program that is suitable for your level of fitness and which will help you achieve your weight goals.
Make sure that you are getting quality pre-natal care. This way, gestational diabetes can be caught at its earliest and you can probably eliminate it before it has time to do its worst.