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Diagnosing and Treating Gestational Diabetes

Updated on April 26, 2013
With proper treatment, any woman can carry a healthy pregnancy to term.
With proper treatment, any woman can carry a healthy pregnancy to term. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Finding out you are pregnant is a happy event for those who are trying to have a baby. You don’t want anything to spoil that happiness. Yet, not all pregnancies go off without a hitch. Sometimes they are complicated with certain conditions, like gestational diabetes; a condition that usually makes it’s appearance about 24 weeks into the pregnancy. It’s important to make sure that women are tested regularly throughout the pregnancy. And if the condition is diagnosed, then the mom’s need to follow a diet and medication regime that keeps both her and the baby healthy.


What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels rise during pregnancy. It is estimated to occur in about 18% of all pregnancies. There is no known cause for the occurrence of gestational diabetes, only some working theories. One of the prevailing theories is insulin resistance, believed to be a condition where hormone’s from the placenta block the insulin in the mother’s body. In this case the mother may need to take insulin injections 1 to 3 times a day, along with diet and exercise to help control the blood sugar levels.


Controlling Gestational Diabetes

Because gestational diabetes occurs later in the pregnancy, after the development stage, it doesn’t cause the types of birth defects seen with many other conditions. Left untreated, or poorly controlled, gestational diabetes can still harm the baby and the mother though.


The mother’s pancreas goes into overdrive trying to produce enough insulin to take care of the blood glucose to no avail. The extra insulin does not cross the placental barrier, but the higher glucose levels will pass through to the baby, causing the baby’s pancreas to produce extra insulin. So now the baby’s getting way more energy than it needs from all that glucose, and begins storing it as fat. The baby soon grows so large that it may be difficult to impossible to deliver vaginally. So some women may require a c-section or have labor induced early.


Another complication is that, any baby that has been producing extra insulin in-utero will likely be born with low blood sugar. This is a serious health risk for all babies born to mom’s with gestational diabetes. The babies need to be monitored, and the blood sugar’s managed, until their system stabilizes. Babies born with the excessive insulin are at risk for childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes as adults. As for the risk to the moms’, it’s a good news/bad news thing. The good news is that gestational diabetes almost always clears up within a week or two of delivery. The bad news is that women who have had gestational diabetes are at much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later, especially if they are overweight.


Symptoms and Testing for Gestational Diabetes

Here’s the kicker. Women with gestational diabetes won’t know they have it because they don’t exhibit symptoms. That’s why monitoring their blood work and urine tests, and performing a glucose screening around 24 to 28 weeks is so important.

Risks of Having Gestational Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association lists the risks for gestational diabetes as follows.

  1. 1. Your are overweight.
  2. 2. You have had gestational diabetes in a pregnancy prior to this one.
  3. 3. You are spilling sugar in your urine.
  4. 4. You have a family history of diabetes.


Signs that may cause your midwife or doctor to watch you more closely for signs of gestational diabetes include:

  • You have given birth to one or babies weighing 8.75 pounds or more.
  • You’ve had a stillbirth for no apparent reason
  • You have delivered a baby with a birth defect.
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You are over the age of 35 years.
  • You have excessive weight gain during your pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.


Treatment for Gestational Diabetes

Treatment for gestational diabetes is geared toward controlling mom’s blood sugar levels, keeping them at levels that considered normal for a non-pregnant state. That means moderate exercise to help make use of the glucose, a calorie controlled diet of nutritious foods (meats, dairy, fruits and veggies, starchy foods, and some fat), and in most cases, insulin injections 1 to 3 times a day. Mom also should be checking her blood sugars several times a day to make sure her levels are staying within normal limits. Normal limits are:

  • Around 80 to 95 mg/dl before meals.
  • 120 mg/dl 1 to 2 hours after meals, but not more than 14 mg/dl.


Keep a journal of blood sugar levels, when they were taken, insulin injections, and meals. Take the journal with you to all doctor’s appointments as well as your glucose meter. The meters they make these days can be plugged into a computer so that the doctor can watch your progress. Check the American Diabetic Association website for diet plans. If this doesn’t help you, have your doctor or midwife recommend a nutritionist to help you set up a diet plan for you.


Your doctor or midwife may also want to monitor your pregnancy more closely. Yes, that means more visits, but it’s worth it to make sure you deliver a healthy baby.



Resources

American Diabetes Association. Gestational Diabetes.

http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/gestational/


Baby Center. Gestational Diabetes.

http://www.babycenter.com/0_gestational-diabetes_2058.bc?page=1


Mayo Clinic. Gestational Diabetes.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gestational-diabetes/DS00316


Web MD. Gestational Diabetes.

http://diabetes.webmd.com/guide/gestational_diabetes

Gestational Diabetes

.Diabetes During Pregnancy: What is Gestational Diabetes? .

Gestational Diabetes Meal Plan: Taking Care of Mom And Baby

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    • vertualit profile image

      Abdus Salam 4 years ago from Bangladesh

      very informative posting. useful and voted. thanks

    • joanwz profile image
      Author

      Joan Whetzel 4 years ago from Katy, Texas

      I had gestational diabetes with my second child and it cleared up after giving birth. I didn't have any more children after that, though I did wonder if it would have reappeared if I had gotten pregnant again.

    • joanwz profile image
      Author

      Joan Whetzel 4 years ago from Katy, Texas

      I'm glad your granddaughter and her baby are doing well. I know it can be harder to control the juvenile onset diabetes when the woman becomes pregnant.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      One of my adult granddaughters was diagnosed with Diabetes I (juvenile diabetes) in her early twenties. She got married last year and recently became pregnant--with twins. Because hers is a high-risk pregnancy, she's being very closely monitored by an obstetrician who specializes in pregnancies of diabetic women, as well as by an endocrinologist. So far, they both say everything is alright. They're keeping her blood sugar under control and perform frequent ultrasounds.

      I will not stop worrying and really breathe easy until she has the babies and all three of them are pronounced safe and healthy.

      Very good, informational hub. Voted Up++

      Jaye

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very informative. I have never heard about gestational diabetes before reading this hub. But, I think most of us know very well about diabetes. The complication appeared when the diabetes getting worse. I learn many things here. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Voted up :-)

      Prasetio

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      When I was pregnant with my twins I developed gestational diabetes. Thankfully I didn't have any problems and followed a strict diet as well as checking my blood 3 or 4 times a day. With my second pregnancy I was told that I'd probably get it again but luckily I didn't.

      Very useful article. Voting up and sharing.