During pregnancy some women develop high blood sugars. This is what is normally referred to as gestational diabetes and usually disappears after giving birth.
It commonly occurs during the second or third trimesters but can also occur at any stage of pregnancy.
During this period, the body is not able to produce enough insulin - a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels - to meet extra needs in pregnancy.
Early detection and management can reduce risks to the baby and mother.
Who is at Risk in Developing Gestational Diabetes
Women who are more at risk in developing gestational diabetes include
- BMI above 30. Normal BMI is 18.5-24.9
- You previously had a baby who weighed 4.5kg or more at birth
- You had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- 1 of your parents or siblings has diabetes
- You are of south Asian, Black, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin.
Common Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
- Increased feeling of thirst.
- Increased frequency of urination,
- Dry mouth
- Feeling tired.
Most cases of gestational diabetes are discovered during routine medical checkup. The above symptoms normally occur when sugar levels are too high – Hyperglycemia. It is also important to note that some of the symptoms above are normal during pregnancy. It is therefore advisable to seek medical attention in case the symptoms above persist.
How Gestational Diabetes Affects Pregnancy
It is important to note that most women with gestational diabetes have normal pregnancies.
Gestational diabetes can cause-
- Larger than usual growing baby which can lead to difficulties during giving birth hence requiring Caesarian section or induced labor.
- polyhydramnios – too much amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds the baby) in the womb, which can cause premature labor or problems at delivery
- premature birth – giving birth before the 37th week of pregnancy
- pre-eclampsia – a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and can lead to pregnancy complications if not treated
- your baby developing low blood sugar or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) after he or she is born, which may require treatment in hospital
- the loss of your baby (stillbirth) – though this is rare
Having gestational diabetes also means you're at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Treatments for Gestational Diabetes
If you have gestational diabetes, the chances of having problems with your pregnancy can be reduced by controlling your blood sugar levels.
You'll be given a blood sugar testing kit so you can monitor the effects of treatment.
Blood sugar levels may be reduced by changing your diet and exercise routine. However, if these changes don't lower your blood sugar levels enough, you will need to take medicine as well. This may be tablets or insulin injections.
You'll also be more closely monitored during your pregnancy and birth to check for any potential problems.
If you have gestational diabetes, it's best to give birth before 41 weeks. Induction of labor or a caesarean section may be recommended if labor does not start naturally by this time.
Earlier delivery may be recommended if there are concerns about your or your baby's health or if your blood sugar levels have not been well controlled.
Long-term Effects of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes normally goes away after birth. But women who've had it are more likely to develop:
gestational diabetes again in future pregnancies
type 2 diabetes – a lifelong type of diabetes
You should have a blood test to check for diabetes 6 to 13 weeks after giving birth, and once every year after that if the result is normal.
See your GP if you develop symptoms of high blood sugar, such as increased thirst, needing to pee more often than usual, and a dry mouth – do not wait until your next test.
You should have the tests even if you feel well, as many people with diabetes do not have any symptoms.
You'll also be advised about things you can do to reduce your risk of getting diabetes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
Some research has suggested that babies of mothers who had gestational diabetes may be more likely to develop diabetes or become obese later in life.