What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy. It affects up to 10% of women who are pregnant in the U.S. each year.
There are two classes of gestational diabetes. Women with class A1 can manage it through diet and exercise. Those who have class A2 need to take insulin or other medications.
Gestational diabetes goes away after you give birth. But it can affect your baby’s health, and it raises your risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life. You can take steps so you and your baby stay healthy.
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
Women with gestational diabetes don’t usually have symptoms or may chalk them up to pregnancy. Most find out that they have it during a routine screening.
You may notice that:
- You’re thirstier than usual
- You’re hungrier and eat more than usual
- You pee more than usual
Gestational Diabetes Causes
When you eat, your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that helps move a sugar called glucose from your blood to your cells, which use it for energy.
During pregnancy, your placenta makes hormones that cause glucose to build up in your blood. Usually, your pancreas can send out enough insulin to handle it. But if your body can’t make enough insulin or stops using insulin like it should, your blood sugar levels rise, and you get gestational diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors
You’re more likely to get gestational diabetes if you:
- Were overweight before you got pregnant
- Are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American
- Have blood sugar levels that are higher than they should be but not high enough to be diabetes (this is called prediabetes)
- Have a family member with diabetes
- Have had gestational diabetes before
- Have high blood pressure or other medical complications
- Have given birth to a large baby (weighing more than 9 pounds)
- Have given birth to a baby who was stillborn or had certain birth defects
- Are older than 25
Gestational Diabetes Tests and Diagnosis
Gestational diabetes usually happens in the second half of pregnancy. Your doctor will check for it between weeks 24 and 28 or sooner if you're at high risk.
Your doctor will give you a glucose challenge or glucose screening test. You’ll drink something sweet to raise your blood sugar. An hour later, you’ll take a blood test to see how your body handled all that sugar. If the results show that your blood sugar is higher than a certain level, usually around 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), you’ll need an oral glucose tolerance test. This means checking your blood sugar after going without food and having a 3-hour glucose test.
If you’re at high risk but your test results are normal, your doctor might test you again later in your pregnancy to make sure you still don’t have it.
Gestational Diabetes Treatment
If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll need treatment as soon as possible to keep yourself and your baby healthy during your pregnancy and delivery. Your doctor will ask you to:
- Check your blood sugar levels four or more times a day
- Check your urine for ketones, chemicals that mean that your diabetes isn’t under control
- Eat a healthy diet
- Make exercise a habit
Your doctor will keep track of your weight and your baby’s development. They might give you insulin or another medicine to keep your blood sugar under control.
Target Blood Sugar Levels for Women During Pregnancy
The American Diabetes Association recommends these targets for pregnant women who test their blood sugar:
- Before a meal: 95 mg/dL or less
- An hour after a meal: 140 mg/dL or less
- Two hours after a meal: 120 mg/dL or less
Diet and Exercise for Gestational Diabetes
Take these simple steps to stay healthy:
- Eat a healthy, low-sugar diet. Follow a meal plan made for someone with diabetes. Talk to your doctor to be sure you’re getting the nutrition you need. Trade sugary snacks like cookies, candy, and ice cream for natural sugars like fruits, carrots, and raisins. Add vegetables and whole grains, and watch your portion sizes.
- Exercise throughout your pregnancy. Get active as soon as possible. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Running, walking, swimming, and biking are all good options.
Complications of Gestational Diabetes
Take these simple steps to hold off gestational diabetes:
- Eat healthy, low-sugar diet: Follow a meal plan made for someone with diabetes. Trade sugary snacks like cookies, candy and ice cream for natural sugars like fruits, carrots and raisins. Add vegetables and whole grains and watch portion sizes.
- Lose excess weight before you get pregnant: Doctors don’t recommend you lose weight during pregnancy. Dropping extra pounds before you get pregnant can make for a healthier pregnancy.
- Exercise throughout pregnancy: Start before you get pregnant if you’re planning for a baby. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Running, walking, swimming and biking are all good options.
- Get appropriate prenatal care: Not only can your doctor screen you for this condition; she can offer advice on food, activity and weight loss. She can also point you to other health professionals, like nutritionists, that can help.
Gestational Diabetes Prevention
You can lower your risk before you get pregnant by:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Staying active
- Losing extra weight