Diabetes is a common condition where there is too much sugar in the blood. The rise in blood sugar levels occurs because the body cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone which removes glucose from the blood stream for use in the cells).
Gestational diabetes is a disease which occurs during pregnancy (typically occurring at around week 26), and which usually goes away after the end of the pregnancy. Many hormonal changes occur during pregnancy, which can affect insulin production and action. As the fetus and placenta develops, the body may be unable to sufficiently adapt to changing hormone and insulin levels to maintain a stable blood sugar level. About 1 in 10 Australian women develop it during their pregnancy and this trend is steadily rising.
If you are currently pregnant and are any of the following, you should consult your doctor to discuss your risk of gestational diabetes:
- Over 30 years of age
- Had it in a previous pregnancy
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes
- You are: Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
All these factors have been shown to increase your risk of gestational diabetes. Currently it is recommended that all women are screened for gestational diabetes between their 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. Women at higher risk due to the factors above should be screened earlier.
For your baby, gestational diabetes can lead to complications if left undiagnosed and untreated. Your baby may be born large, making delivery difficult and possibly making C-section necessary. Your baby might be born with low blood sugar levels and may need special care after birth. Finally, there is an increased risk of premature birth and even miscarriage in extreme cases.
For many women, being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be a source of major distress and so it is majorly important that you seek advice from you doctor and diabetes health professional for information in managing your condition. Your treatment will be aimed to keep your blood sugar level at a stable and healthy level, and will require regular monitoring, a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity. Generally, gestational diabetes can be easily managed with lifestyle cases, although in rare cases insulin injections may be required.
Of course, prevention is better than the cure. Especially if you have any of the risk factors, maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce your risk of gestational diabetes significantly.