Gestational Diabetes: Must-Know Facts

Gestational diabetes affects one in 10 pregnancies and increases the risk of complication. Here's what parents need to know to have a healthy pregnancy.

DIABETES CARE|May.01, 2017

Pregnancy is filled with milestones – feeling the first kicks, picking a baby name, preparing baby’s nursery. But preparing for your glucose challenge test may raise some questions.

Learn what a gestational diabetes diagnosis could really mean, how to reduce your overall risk and, most importantly, how to keep both you and your baby happy and healthy through it all.

What is Gestational Diabetes, Really?

Traditional diabetes is a condition that develops when the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, a hormone that helps deliver glucose (aka sugar) from your bloodstream and into your cells and organs for energy.

"Unlike type 1 and 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is caused in part by physiological changes that occur during pregnancy and affects one in 10 pregnant women," explains Christina Sherry, PhD, RD, a nutrition scientist with Abbott. "During pregnancy, pregnancy hormones can reduce or block the effectiveness of mom’s own insulin," she says. Coupled with other risk factors – everything from being overweight, having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or having a family history of Type 2 diabetes – this insulin resistance can progress to the point of gestational diabetes.

"Gestational diabetes can pose some health risks for mom and baby, including the risk of a high birth weight, jaundice, breathing problems for baby and increased chances of high blood pressure and preeclampsia for mom (a potentially fatal condition that damages organs including the kidneys)," says certified diabetes educator, Karmeen Kulkarni, MS, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, director of scientific affairs for Abbott's diabetes business. But a gestational diabetes diagnosis isn't the final word. For many women, especially those who follow a good diet and exercise plan, gestational diabetes is temporary and will likely resolve once the baby is born.

What to Expect From Your Glucose Challenge Test

About 24 to 28 weeks into your pregnancy, your physician will perform a simple blood test to get a picture of how your body reacts to insulin. If she detects a high blood sugar level, your physician will recommend further evaluation. This involves performing a similar test in which your blood sugar is tested every hour for three hours after drinking the sugary solution. Based on the results, your doctor will determine if you have gestational diabetes.

Five Ways to Stay Healthy With Gestational Diabetes

"Pregnancy really is an opportunity to give you and your baby the best start toward healthy futures," Sherry says. "By maintaining healthy blood sugar levels throughout pregnancy, women can still have a happy and healthy pregnancy, even with gestational diabetes."

  1. Create a healthy carb strategy.
    Swap out refined carbohydrates such as white bread, candy and soda for fiber-filled whole alternatives like whole grain bread, fruits and vegetables, Sherry says. Spread your intake of carb-containing foods throughout the day to keep your blood sugar steady.
  2. Eat small meals throughout the day.
    Rather than having three large meals per day, opt to eat small meals or a low carb snacks every two to four hours.
  3. Stay active throughout pregnancy.
    If you were a regular exerciser prior to pregnancy, talk to your doctor about sticking with your routine now. Even a short 10-minute walk after every meal can make a huge impact.
  4. Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels.
    Typically, blood sugar levels should be measured after each meal, but your doctor may advise testing before meals and first thing in the morning as well.
  5. Share your diagnosis with your primary care doctor.
    Women with gestational diabetes have a 60 percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, Kulkarni says, so stay in constant contact with your primary care doctor. They may even recommend testing your blood sugar levels every one to three years.

Staying Healthy With Gestational Diabetes

Staying healthy with Gestational Diabetes