With gestational diabetes, your body cannot properly process sugar, also known as glucose. This means that instead of being used for energy, the sugar is stored as fat and can be dangerous to both mother and baby. The good news is that most women who have gestational diabetes will go back to normal after the baby is born. If you have gestational diabetes, it doesn’t mean you’ll develop type 2 later on. But having it greatly increases your risk of developing type 2 at some point in your life. Fortunately, most women can manage their blood sugar levels by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Talk with your doctor about what you can do to reduce the risk of developing type 2 after you give birth—and how best to manage your gestational diabetes during this pregnancy.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that is only found during pregnancy. It happens when your body can’t make enough insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it makes. Insulin helps your body process sugar, which is a source of energy for your body. When you have gestational diabetes, your body can’t break down sugar properly, which leads to high blood sugar levels. High levels of sugar can be dangerous to both you and your baby. Although some women can have gestational diabetes without knowing it, most will notice it because they will have excess thirst, frequent urination, and increased hunger. Other symptoms, such as fatigue and blurred vision, are more serious and may indicate a more severe form of gestational diabetes.
How does gestational diabetes affect pregnancy?
On the positive side, the hormones that cause gestational diabetes will also cause your fetus to grow, so your baby will probably be larger than average. A larger baby may be easier to deliver, which means your doctor may be able to do a less invasive type of delivery, such as a cesarean section. Unfortunately, high blood sugar levels caused by gestational diabetes can be harmful to both mother and baby. For you, high blood sugar can lead to other complications during pregnancy, such as a large amount of excess fluid in your body (called edema) and high blood pressure. High blood sugar can also increase your risk of having an unhealthy baby, such as an infant who is too small (called fetal growth restriction) or one who has a low blood sugar level (called neonatal hypoglycemia).
Signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes
While some women get diagnosed with gestational diabetes during their first prenatal visit, others don’t find out until their third trimester. If your blood sugar levels are high, your doctor will likely suggest taking a blood test to find out for certain. If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll probably be told to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may notice some of the following symptoms: Excessive thirst: This is your body’s way of trying to get rid of excess sugar through your urine. However, it’s not good to drink so much water, because that takes away fluids that help your body maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Frequent urination: This is also related to the excess sugar in your body. Increased hunger: You may feel hungry all the time, even if you’ve just eaten a big meal. That’s because your body is trying to get rid of excess sugar as quickly as possible. Regular blood sugar monitoring: If you have gestational diabetes, your doctor may suggest you monitor your blood sugar levels at home.
Managing gestational diabetes during pregnancy
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may be tempted to eat all the sweets you want, but this is not a free pass to start eating like a sugar addict. Instead, your dietitian will likely prescribe a low-carb diet with plenty of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. To manage your blood sugar levels, you may need to take an oral diabetes drug called a hyperglycemic agent (or a combination of two or more of these drugs). If you previously took insulin to manage your diabetes, your doctor may have you continue using it during your pregnancy. Using insulin during pregnancy is generally safe, but your doctor will likely adjust the dosage.
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Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy doesn’t mean you’ll have type 2 diabetes later in life. However, it does increase your risk of developing type 2 at some point in the future. You can reduce this risk by managing your diet and exercising regularly.