This article is part of the Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that begins during pregnancy and usually resolves after the baby is born. Most women can control gestational diabetes with lifestyle changes alongside careful monitoring during prenatal visits. Learn more about this pregnancy complication including tips for managing gestational diabetes.
What is gestational diabetes?During pregnancy, hormones can make insulin less effective or even cause it to stop processing glucose in food - insulin helps the body convert food into energy. If insulin's normal process is interrupted, the excess glucose in the mother's blood can cause gestational diabetes and cross the placenta, causing problems for the baby. Gestational diabetes can cause complications for both mother and baby:
- Cesarean delivery
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Macrosomia (abnormally large baby) and problems during delivery, such as shoulder dystocia
- Respiratory distress for the baby (breathing problems)
- Increased rate of stillbirth
Symptoms of gestational diabetesUnfortunately, the symptoms of diabetes are quite similar to other body changes that often occur during pregnancy. However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should discuss them at your next prenatal appointment:
- Increased urination—When glucose accumulates in the blood, it pulls water out of the body’s tissues and into the blood. The kidneys turn this extra water into urine and excrete it. This increases your urine output.
- Increased thirst—The increase in urine output causes your body to become dehydrated. This makes you thirsty.
- Increased hunger—Your body’s cells are not getting enough glucose, which means your cells cannot get enough food. This causes you to feel hungry.
- Recurring urinary tract infection or vaginal yeast infection —When glucose builds up in the blood, it can affect the functioning of your white blood cells. This may cause you to have urinary tract infections or vaginal yeast infections more often.
- Weight loss—Despite the increase in appetite, you may lose weight. This is because the cells cannot get enough glucose to use for energy so they begin to break down the body’s stores of fat in order to produce energy.
- Fatigue—Because your cells are not getting glucose, they cannot get enough energy. This can make you feel tired.
Screening tests for gestational diabetesYour doctor should assess your risk for gestational diabetes at your first prenatal visit. If you already have diabetes and you become pregnant, then you do not need to be screened for gestational diabetes. If you have risk factors for developing gestational diabetes (such as, obesity, family history for type 2 diabetes, or previous history of gestational diabetes), your doctor may recommend that you undergo glucose tolerance testing as soon as possible. If your initial test is negative, you will be retested between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation. If you are at average risk, your doctor will give you a screening test between 24-28 weeks of gestation. Learn more about diabetes in our online Diabetes Education Center.
Managing your gestational diabetesThe most important tool for maintaining your health and the health of your baby is to keep your regular prenatal appointments. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, those appointments will likely increase in frequency to at least every two weeks. You can also expect an extra ultrasound or two to monitor the size of your baby. In between appointments, you can take control of your health by watching what you eat and, with your doctor's approval, getting regular exercise. Some women will also need medication to control their blood sugar but most can manage gestational diabetes with lifestyle changes such as:
- Plan to eat three medium-size meals every day, with two to three small snacks in between.
- Make lean proteins, whole grains and vegetables a regular part of your diet.
- Choose lower fat dairy products to still get the calcium that is so important during pregnancy: low fat milk, plain non-fat yogurt - regular or Greek, unflavored soy milk
- Avoid sugary, processed foods.
- Incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your routine at least five times a week. Good exercise options while pregnant include a walk, swim, or pregnancy yoga class.
- Keep a food diary and track how you're feeling after you eat. Bring this diary along to your appointments and discuss it with your doctor.
Have more questions about gestational diabetes?
Logansport Memorial Hospital has a diabetes educator on-staff that can work with pregnant women, helping them navigate through gestational diabetes. Jill Weese, RN will work with you individually to determine what works for you in managing this diagnosis during your pregnancy. Call her directly at (574) 753-1339 to set up an appointment, or ask your OB/GYN about a referral.