Gestational diabetes is a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes occurs in approximately 4 percent of all pregnancies.
What causes gestational diabetes
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy affect the body’s response to insulin and lead to impaired glucose tolerance for many women.
Because many of the mother’s nutrients are redirected to the developing fetus, the mother is at risk of low blood sugar. Hormones produced by the placenta impair the actions of insulin to keep the mother’s blood sugar levels from falling too low.
Over the course of the pregnancy, these hormones lead to progressively higher degrees of impaired glucose tolerance. To compensate, the pancreas begins to produce more insulin – up to three times the normal amount. If the mother’s pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to counteract the effects of the hormonal changes, her blood sugar levels will remain elevated, resulting in gestational diabetes, which will, in turn, endanger the life of her baby.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes
Many women who develop gestational diabetes have no known risk factors. However, you may have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes if:
- You are overweight before you become pregnant.
- You belong to a high-risk ethnic group (Asian, Hispanic, African American, or Native American).
- You have previously given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- You have ever given birth to a stillborn baby.
- You have had gestational diabetes with a previous pregnancy.
- You have a family history of diabetes. Complications of gestational diabetes
- Gestational diabetes poses risks for both the mother and the developing fetus. It can increase the risk of miscarriage and result in birth defects affecting major organs such as the brain and heart.
Gestational diabetes can also lead to a large birth weight for the baby, a condition known as macrosomia, which increases the risk of complications during labor and delivery.
After the birth of her child, the mother carries a significant risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Managing gestational diabetes
Proper treatment for gestational diabetes can help keep the mother and baby healthy during pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels regularly, at least four times a day. Monitoring your weight gain, exercising regularly if medically approved, following your doctor’s dietary guidelines, and controlling your blood pressure can help you deliver a healthy baby. Some women may also need to take insulin during pregnancy.