What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes develops in women during pregnancy when the mother’s body is not able to produce enough insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that enables the body to break down sugar to be used as energy. Without sufficient insulin levels, the amount of sugar in the blood rises.
High blood sugar levels in the mother’s body are passed through the placenta to the developing baby. This can cause health problems.
Gestational diabetes usually begins in the second half of pregnancy and goes away after the baby is born.
What causes it?
The hormones produced during pregnancy work against the action of insulin. Gestational diabetes can happen if the mother’s body cannot produce enough extra insulin to counteract this blocking effect.
Who is at risk?
A pregnant woman is more at risk if they:
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Are over the age of 35
- Are obese
- Have previously given birth to a large baby
- Have previously given birth to a baby born with an abnormality
- Have previously had a stillbirth late in pregnancy
How do I know if I have it?
The symptoms of gestational diabetes are:
- excessive urination
These symptoms are experienced by most pregnant women anyway and therefore gestational diabetes may go unnoticed.
It is normal to be tested for gestational diabetes in the latter part of the second trimester of pregnancy (24 to 28 weeks).
The only way to confirm gestational diabetes is with a glucose tolerance test, which needs to be carried out after 8 hours without food. The woman is given a solution of glucose to drink, and then blood samples are taken and analysed at different intervals to see how the body deals with the glucose over time.
The most important part of treatment is controlling the blood sugar levels. For many women, this means:
- Regular testing of blood sugar levels
- A carefully planned diet
- Regular exercise
- Some women will require insulin injections. The extra insulin will not cross the placenta and will not affect the baby
Does it go away?
Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy.
However, once you have had gestational diabetes, your chances are 2 in 3 that it will return in future pregnancies.
Many women who have gestational diabetes go on to develop Type 2 diabetes in later years. There seems to be a relation between the two types of diabetes and both conditions involve insulin resistance.
If you have had gestational diabetes you should have a blood test to check for diabetes 6 weeks after your baby is born and every year thereafter to ensure you have not developed Type 2 diabetes.
Lifestyle changes & diabetes prevention
Certain basic lifestyle changes may help prevent Type 2 diabetes after gestational diabetes:
- Weight loss
- Healthy eating habits
- Staying active
Most women with diabetes have a normal pregnancy resulting in a healthy baby. However, having diabetes does increase the chances of complications for both mother and baby.
Information from Diabetes Ireland